Critical Condition

Answering “The Abortion Question”

Michelle Andrews’s essay “The Abortion Question,” which appeared in the New York Times on Thursday, is one of the latest in a long line of attempts to downplay pro-life concerns about health-care reform.  To their credit, supporters of Obama-care are wise to engage pro-lifers. Regardless of their views on sanctity of life issues, many Americans do not want their tax dollars subsidizing abortion.  As such, mandated abortion coverage has the ability to jeopardize health-care reform by driving a wedge between moderate voters and President Obama’s liberal base.

Andrews’s essay, like most of the others, misses the mark. Granted, some of the language concerning abortion in the proposed legislation sounds ambiguous.  However, a greater federal role in health insurance — through providing insurance directly, or requiring insurance purchases through a national health-insurance exchange –  will make it easier for abortion coverage to be federally mandated in health-insurance policies.  What is especially troubling is that there is a strong chance decisions about insurance mandates will be made not by elected officials, but instead by appointees such as the HHS secretary or some kind of independent council. Furthermore, if abortion is a federally mandated health benefit, that could potentially nullify some state pro-life laws.

Also, what Andrews and others consistently fail to realize is that President Obama is vulnerable on the abortion issue. When running for president, Barack Obama realized his position on abortion was a political liability. As such, he shifted his rhetoric to appeal to moderate voters — often speaking about reducing the need for abortion. However, as president he has instead pursued policies of subsidizing abortion at home and abroad through repealing both the Mexico City Policy and the Dornan Amendment.  Now these are both relatively obscure policy decisions. However, subsidizing abortion in a high-profile, high-visibility policy initiative like health-care reform may well prove to be politically costly. As always, pro-lifers would do well to keep up the fight.

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.