Recently, Oklahoma has attracted attention from extreme anti-abortion groups because Dan Fisher -- a Republican gubernatorial candidate -- has been very vocal about his desire to “abolish abortion” and his belief that courts should ignore Roe v. Wade. On the heels of that news, the editorial board of a local newspaper tapped into the same well of anti-abortion sentiment to forward an inaccurate assessment of the effort by Congress to stabilize the Affordable Care Act.
On March 28, the editorial board of The Oklahoman, the largest newspaper in Oklahoma, ran an editorial laying the blame on Democrats and their “insistence on unfettered abortion rights” for Congress’ failure to pass an Affordable Care Act (ACA) premium stabilization bill. However, the debate in Congress was actually over the inclusion of language in the bill that would have expanded the Hyde Amendment -- which prohibits the use of federal funds to provide for abortions -- to stop private insurers selling over the ACA exchange from covering abortion as well. In simple terms, Republicans wanted the language included (a change from the status quo), and Democrats did not.
Even though Republicans were pushing for a more restrictive version of the Hyde Amendment, the editorial board said that blame for the bill's failure should at least partially rest with Democrats. The outlet argued that “Democrats' claims of surprise are hard to buy” because “iterations” of the Hyde Amendment “have existed in various forms “in health-related legislation since 1976.” In addition to misrepresenting the nature of Democrats’ opposition, the editorial board also promoted the right-wing myth that Democrats support “abortion on demand.”
The Oklahoman wasn’t alone in its inaccurate framing of Democrats’ stance on abortion rights and how it impacted the ACA stabilization bill. The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal similarly blamed Democrats for the bill’s failure, writing that “the left has abandoned the idea that abortion is a personal choice and now regards it a self-evident right that everyone must subsidize.” The Wall Street Journal also recently published an opinion piece from Cardinal Timothy Dolan in which he claimed the Democratic Party had alienated Catholics in pursuit of “the most radical abortion license in the country.”
However, as reported by Politico, the inclusion of the expanded Hyde Amendment language would have curtailed coverage for abortion from private insurers in the marketplaces -- a meaningful distinction that The Oklahoman and others failed to unpack. Indeed, Democrats said their objection wasn’t to the inclusion of any Hyde language, but that the language in question “would significantly expand federal funding restrictions on abortion” because “any insurance plan that covered abortion wouldn’t be able to get federal funds from Obamacare, or worse, insurers in some states wouldn’t be allowed to sell any individual market health plan that covers abortion.”
In other words, as HuffPost concluded, the proposal would have made it “almost certain no insurer offering coverage to individuals would include abortion coverage.” Under the ACA’s current structure, the Hyde Amendment restrictions are not violated because insurers that want to provide abortion coverage do so through “separate spending accounts, filled only with premiums they have received directly from individuals.” Contrary to the framing used by The Oklahoman and others that the Democrats played spoiler, Politico also reported that when “Democrats offered language similar to what was in the Affordable Care Act,” Republicans rejected this offer. Instead, Republicans demanded “permanent Hyde Amendment language” in the bill that would also apply to private insurers.
It should be noted that, while the Democrats weren't objecting to the Hyde Amendment as it currently exists, the law is actually an extremely harmful policy that, as the Center for American Progress noted, has “a disproportionate impact on low-income women, young women, and women of color.” It leads to “poor health outcomes” and “contributes to a culture rife with abortion stigma.” It’s also not even popular with voters.
Rather than discuss any of this, the editorial board of The Oklahoman oversimplified the debate in order to place blame on Democrats and allege that their position on abortion was extreme.