Critical Condition

Abortion and the Health-Care Overhaul

In an article on today, Susan Cohen of the Guttmacher Institute attempts to downplay pro-life concerns about the Obama administration’s proposed health-care reforms. She argues the current health-care-reform proposals will have little (if any) effect on either (1) public funding for abortion or (2) insurance coverage of abortion. Unfortunately she is incorrect on both counts.


First, Cohen claims health-care reform will not result in more public funding for abortion because the Hyde Amendment effectively prevents federal funding for elective abortions. However, the Associated Press today reports that “the health overhaul would create a stream of federal funding not covered by the [Hyde Amendment] restrictions.” The new federal funds would subsidize low- and middle-income people buying coverage, through the federal health insurance exchange, which would include plans that cover abortion.


Second, Cohen wrongly argues that “there is no serious chance that private insurance plans will be actually required to cover abortion.” However, some of the proposed health-care reforms require that all private insurance plans be sold through a federal insurance exchange. If such a plan is enacted, it would be much easier someday to enact federal regulations requiring that all private health insurance plans cover elective abortions.


Throughout her essay Cohen argues that it is difficult to predict how mandating that insurance cover abortion services will affect abortion rates. This is a fair point. Medicaid recipients might be more sensitive to the price of an abortion than middle- and high-income earners who have health insurance.


However, there exists substantial evidence from the Cohen’s own Guttmacher Institute and other sources that public funding of abortion increases abortion rates. Cohen says that pro-lifers “take a giant rhetorical leap” when we criticize President Obama for violating his pledge to reduce the number of abortions — while his administration has supported federal funding of abortion both at home and abroad. However, considering that pro-lifers actually want to reduce abortion, our concerns about Obama’s policies seem justified.


Not surprisingly, Cohen advocates for sex education and increased access to family-planning services as strategies to reduce abortion. Of course, the effects of sex education and family-planning services on abortion rates are hardly conclusive. However, there exists a very strong consensus that publicly subsidizing abortion increases abortion rates. That is why the pro-life movement would do well to continue to be vigilant about health-care reform.


— Michael J. New is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama and a visiting fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.

Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor of social research and political science at the Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.

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