Media continue to misrepresent abortion provisions in health reform bill

Media figures continue to falsely claim that a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the House health care reform bill would only have the effect of prohibiting government money from being used to pay for abortions, echoing a myth previously advanced about a proposed amendment to a prior version of that legislation. In fact, language in the current House bill already segregates federal money so it cannot be used directly to fund abortions, and the proposed amendment would effectively ban abortion coverage for some who have it now.

Media advance false, misleading claims on abortion language, push anti-abortion alternative

On Dobbs, Donohue falsely claimed bill “explicitly” says on Page 110 that in the public option “you're going to have paying for abortion.” On November 5, Catholic League president Bill Donohue stated: "[House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi is one of the problems here. She continues to deny that abortion is in the bill. Yet I have the bill in front of me. And on Page 110 of this 2,000-page bill, it explicitly says that in the public option that you're going to have paying for abortion." [United Stations Radio Network's The Lou Dobbs Show, 11/5/09]

Malkin: Current bill has “government abortion subsidies.” In her November 6 syndicated column, Malkin wrote: “Upwards of 40 pro-life Democrats have objected to the plan's government abortion subsidies. Majority leaders evaded sunlight by keeping a compromise amendment on the matter out of the version of the bill made available to the public. As of Thursday afternoon (less than two days before the scheduled vote), Pelosi had yet to decide whether to permit an abortion ban amendment to her health care bill.” [, 11/6/09]

NRO's Capretta/Washington Times: Democrats won't “back down on their unwavering commitment to abortion radicalism.” In a post on National Review Online's “critical condition” blog that was quoted at length in The Washington Times' Inside Politics column, James C. Capretta wrote:

But there's apparently one thing most Democrats aren't willing to do, even if it jeopardizes their health care ambitions. And that's back down on their unwavering commitment to abortion radicalism.

For months, pro-life Democratic congressman Bart Stupak [MI] has warned Democratic leaders that he and a sizeable bloc of like-minded colleagues would vote against the Democratic health care bill in the House if it didn't clearly and unambiguously preclude taxpayer funding of elective abortions in a reformed system of subsidized health insurance.

This should be a no-brainer for House Democratic leaders. Giving Rep. Stupak what he wants -- which is a clean vote on a no-funding-for-abortion amendment -- would remove one more roadblock on their way to the nirvana of government-run health insurance. [National Review Online, 11/5/09] post hyped Stupak-Pitts anti-abortion alternative that would have effectively banned abortion coverage for many. From a post by Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life Action:

Of course the false pro-life label is designed to give legislators cover back home. So we are working to get the word out to the grass roots. The Ellsworth Amendment allows the public option to pay for abortion on demand and allows government dollars to go to private plans that cover abortion. This amendment would undermine the only pro-life amendment that truly protects life in health care reform: the Stupak- [Rep. Joe] Pitts [R-PA] Amendment.

In order to stop unprecedented abortion funding in the guise of health care reform, we need everyone in pro-life America to contact Congress to prevent their tax dollars from going to abortion. [11/5/09]

Limbaugh fill-in Davis attacked “Cruella Pelosi,” hyped Stupak actions on bill. From the November 5 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

DAVIS: Just a quick shout-out to a couple of folks: Bart Stupak of Michigan. Now this is a courageous Democrat. This is a guy who has essentially drawn a line in the sand and told Speaker Pelosi, “I've got about at least 40 people, you know, Democrats, who cannot, will not, support this thing, because it facilitates -- because of the degree to which it facilitates abortion,” which it does.

And so, brother Stupak there in Michigan fighting the good fight in that regard and probably with a heavy price that lies ahead for him to pay, because woe be unto the Democrats who run afoul of, you know, Cruella Pelosi on this. There will be a price.

And the fact that they seem willing to pay it is the kind of thing that is kind of energizing, because you have to have 218 votes, and Speaker Pelosi herself doesn't know if she has them. [11/5/09]

Current bill forbids government money from being used to directly fund abortion

Page 110 does not say that public option requires government payments for abortion. Page 110 of the bill requires the public health option to cover abortions on which federal money can already be spent under current law. Under the Hyde Amendment, the federal government may spend money to abort only those pregnancies that are “the result of an act of rape or incest” and in cases where a woman is “in danger of death unless an abortion is performed.” Page 110 of the bill further provides that the bill neither requires nor prohibits the public option from covering other types of abortions. From Section 222(e) of the bill:

(3) COVERAGE UNDER PUBLIC HEALTH INSURANCE OPTION. -- The public health insurance option shall provide coverage for services described in paragraph (4)(B). Nothing in this Act shall be construed as preventing the public health insurance option from providing for or prohibiting coverage of services described in paragraph (4)(A).


(A) ABORTIONS FOR WHICH PUBLIC FUNDING IS PROHIBITED. -- The services described in this subparagraph are abortions for which the expenditure of Federal funds appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services is not permitted, based on the law as in effect as of the date that is 6 months before the beginning of the plan year involved.

(B) ABORTIONS FOR WHICH PUBLIC FUNDING IS ALLOWED. -- The services described in this subparagraph are abortions for which the expenditure of Federal funds appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services is permitted, based on the law as in effect as of the date that is 6 months before the beginning of the plan year involved.

Current bill provides that affordability credits “may not be used for payment for” abortions for which federal funding is currently banned. The bill states: “PROHIBITION OF USE OF PUBLIC FUNDS FOR ABORTION COVERAGE. -- An affordability credit may not be used for payment for services described in section 222(d)(4)(A).”

Current bill provides that premiums must cover costs of public option. The bill requires that premiums be set at a rate to “fully finance the costs of ... health benefits provided by the public health insurance option; and ... administrative costs related to operating the public health insurance option.” Thus, since the bill requires that the public option be fully paid for by premiums and bans the use of affordability credits from the government for most abortions, the bill bans the use of government money to directly pay for abortions.

Status quo already allows people participating in federally funded plans to obtain abortions as long as funds are segregated. The bill's treatment of abortion -- allowing people participating in a government-administered health care insurance plan to use their own money to pay for abortion but forbidding federal funding of abortion -- is consistent with current law. According to the Congressional Research Service, the Hyde Amendment was originally passed to prohibit federal funding for abortions through the Medicaid program and has since been expanded to other areas. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the prohibition on federal funding for most abortions under Medicaid, according to a September 1 study by the Guttmacher Institute, 17 states provide coverage under Medicaid for “all or most medically necessary abortions,” not just abortions in cases of life endangerment, rape, and incest. Therefore, in 17 states, Medicaid, a federally subsidized health care program, covers abortions in circumstances in which federal money is prohibited from being spent on abortion.

Current bill also prohibits government from requiring abortion coverage for insurance plans participating in exchange. From Section 222(e) of the bill:


(1) PROHIBITION OF REQUIRED COVERAGE. -- The Health Benefits Advisory Committee may not recommend under section 223(b), and the Secretary may not adopt in standards under section 224(b), the services described in paragraph (4)(A) or (4)(B) as part of the essential benefits package and the Commissioner may not require such services for qualified health benefits plans to participate in the Health Insurance Exchange.

(2) VOLUNTARY CHOICE OF COVERAGE BY PLAN. -- In the case of a qualified health benefits plan, the plan is not required (or prohibited) under this Act from providing coverage of services described in paragraph (4)(A) or (4)(B) and the QHBP offering entity shall determine whether such coverage is provided.

Anti-abortion alternative would have effect of banning abortion coverage for some who have it now

An amendment hyped by conservatives would have the effect of banning all coverage through insurance offered through the exchange. A failed amendment to the previous version of the House bill offered by Stupak and Pitts would effectively bar insurance companies from offering plans through the health insurance exchange that cover abortion. As Media Matters for America documented, such a provision -- if implemented as part of the current House health care reform bill -- would effectively cause a number of people who currently have abortion coverage to lose that coverage.

Media forwarded same myth about previous version of bill

Parker advanced myth that conservative proposal merely about “exclud[ing] abortion” from health reform bill. In her September 6 Washington Post column, Kathleen Parker described an amendment to the House's health care reform bill by anti-abortion members of Congress merely as a proposal “to exclude abortion from the bills” and suggested that a compromise provision in one of the versions of the House bills would change current law by allowing federally subsidized insurance plans to cover abortion as long as federal funds are not used. In fact, the anti-abortion proposal would effectively ban abortion coverage for those participating in health insurance plans that would be part of the proposed health insurance exchange -- including those who currently have such coverage -- and contrary to Parker's suggestion that "[s]egregating funding" would reverse current law, Medicaid already allows states to cover abortion so long as they don't use federal funds.

Additionally, on the September 1 edition of Hannity, Fox News contributor Dana Perino falsely suggested that allowing federally subsidized health plans to cover abortion is inconsistent with current law

Media fact-checks failed to note effect of Stupak-Pitts amendment. CBS, ABC, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Los Angeles Times all purported to fact-check claims about government funding for abortion but have ignored the fact that the Stupak-Pitts amendment by abortion opponents would have had the effect of forcing many who currently have abortion coverage to lose such coverage even if they receive no government subsidy.