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NRL News
Page 1
April/May 2010
Volume 37
Issue 4-5

Democratic-controlled Congress enacts
Obama-backed health care bill, but the fight goes on

WASHINGTON (May 4, 2010)—With a strong push from President Obama, in March Democrats in Congress won enactment of a massive health care restructuring bill, without protections needed to prevent expansions of abortion, and with provisions that will lead to large-scale rationing of lifesaving medical treatments.

Opponents, including the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), vowed to make lawmakers’ votes on the legislation a major issue in the November election, and to fight for drastic modification or repeal of the legislation in future congresses.

Some of the most dangerous provisions do not take full effect until 2014 or later,” explained NRLC Executive Director David N. O’Steen. “So there is a real opportunity for a later Congress to repeal the legislation before then or to prevent the most damaging parts of the legislation from going into effect.”

No Republican voted for the final bill in either the Senate or the House. The legislation ultimately won the votes of every Senate Democrat, and 87% of the House Democrats. The Democrats currently control 59 seats in the 100-member Senate, and hold a 77-seat majority in the 435-member House.

In 2007, while campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president, Obama pledged to Planned Parenthood that he would propose health care legislation that would create a national health plan (“public plan”) that would cover abortion, and would compel private plans to cover abortion. The bills introduced by congressional Democratic leaders in mid-2009 contained numerous pro-abortion provisions, and would have fulfilled both of Obama’s promises.

However, NRLC and its state affiliates mounted stiff opposition to the legislation, based on both the pro-abortion components and on other elements that would lead to rationing of lifesaving medical care.

In November, 2009, the House of Representatives adopted an amendment (the Stupak-Pitts Amendment) that stripped all of the pro-abortion provisions from the House version of the legislation (H.R. 3962). But the Senate later rejected similar pro-life language, and in December approved a different bill (H.R. 3590) that was replete with objectionable provisions.

NRLC urged the House to reject H.R. 3590, and action on the bill was delayed for many weeks in large part because of the controversy over abortion. Ultimately, however, under strong pressure from Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), a key group of House Democrats, led by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mi.), agreed to support the Senate-passed bill, in return for a promise by President Obama to sign an executive order dealing with some of the abortion-related issues raised by the legislation.

When Stupak released the language of the promised executive order on March 21, NRLC issued a statement that read in part, “The National Right to Life Committee remains strongly opposed to the Senate-passed health bill (H.R. 3590). A lawmaker who votes for this bill is voting to require federal agencies to subsidize and administer health plans that will pay for elective abortion, and voting to undermine longstanding pro-life policies in other ways as well. . . . The executive order promised by President Obama was issued for political effect. It changes nothing. It does not correct any of the serious pro-abortion provisions in the bill. The president cannot amend a bill by issuing an order, and the federal courts will enforce what the law says.”

Although a small number of House Democrats remained opposed to the bill, the defection of Stupak and those who joined him was sufficient to give Pelosi the narrow majority she needed to pass the bill, on March 21, by a vote of 219–212. All of the votes to pass the bill were cast by Democrats. Of the opposing votes, 178 were cast by Republicans and 34 by Democrats. (See roll call, page 24.)

Obama signed the bill into law on March 23.

Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), issued a statement explaining that “we as Catholic bishops have opposed its passage because there is compelling evidence that it would expand the role of the federal government in funding and facilitating abortion and plans that cover abortion.”

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, commented that pro-life Americans “are rightly both chagrined and disillusioned” with Stupak’s action. “Pro-lifers are justified in their outrage, since it was apparently Stupak and his Democratic pro-life coalition that provided the margin of victory for ObamaCare,” Land said.

Still, “a year of hard work by grassroots pro-life citizens was not wasted, because it forced Democratic leaders to abandon some of the most expansive pro-abortion provisions that were part of the original legislation,” commented NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson. “A nationwide federal health plan authorized to pay for abortion on demand with public funds, and a mandate that all private plans cover abortion, both of which Obama promised Planned Parenthood in 2007, were not part of the final legislation.”

However, Johnson noted, the law creates or expands a number of health programs without attaching satisfactory pro-life language, opening the door to future expansions of abortion through federal subsidies, and through administrative regulations or court decisions, unless a future Congress passes new legislation to prevent these things.

For example, the law creates a new program of tax credits to help tens of millions of Americans purchase private health insurance, and it does not prohibit private plans that cover abortion on demand from qualifying for such subsidies.

Under the bill, by 2014, at least one government-administered “exchange” will be established in each state, under which private health plans that meet certain federal requirements will be offered for sale. If a plan chooses to cover abortion, it will be required to bill each subscriber separately for the abortion coverage, whether or not the subscriber wants such coverage.

However, other provisions of the bill allow the legislature of a state to pass a law that prohibits exchange-participating health plans from covering abortion—or that restricts abortion coverage on any health insurance sold within a state. Since the federal law was enacted, such “opt-out” bills have already been introduced in a number of state legislatures.

Another abortion-related controversy on the bill pertained to a provision that provides $9.5 billion in new federal funding for community health centers (CHCs), which provide subsidized medical care to low-income Americans, often in rural areas. NRLC and other pro-life groups pointed out that the new funds would not be governed by the Hyde Amendment, which is a provision of the annual Health and Human Services appropriations bill that prohibits federal funding of most abortions under Medicaid and certain other federal programs.

In his executive order, signed on March 24, Obama instructed that the Medicaid abortion policy would apply to the new CHC funds. But pro-life attorneys are skeptical that such policy would stick if challenged in court, since the bill itself contained no such restriction.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, commented that the executive order amounted to merely “a symbolic gesture” (USA Today, March 25, 2010).

On April 22, pro-life Congressman Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), joined by dozens of cosponsors of both parties, introduced the Protect Life Act (H.R. 5111), a bill that would repeal or correct all of the abortion-related problems with the new law. The amendment is similar to the Stupak-Pitts Amendment that the House adopted last November, but which the Senate refused to approve. Nevertheless, Stupak—who on April 9 announced that he will not seek re-election—did not cosponsor the bill.

It is expected that Speaker Pelosi will prevent any vote on the Pitts bill this year.

Besides the abortion problems, the new Obama health care law has other far-reaching problems. The law, which is riddled with dangerous rationing provisions, has overpromised and underfunded, creating a recipe for the denial of treatment. One of the most egregious provisions is the creation of a rationing commission known as the “Independent Payment Advisory Board,” or IPAB.

The IPAB will develop standards that the Secretary of Health and Human Services will impose to keep private sector health spending below the rate of medical inflation. The standards will be designed to limit what ordinary Americans spend on their own health care. Elsewhere in the law, there are limits on seniors’ right to use their own money to save their own lives along with similar limits on younger Americans who are part of the exchange, and the dissemination of questionable “shared decision-making” materials meant to “nudge” people to reject treatment. This is discussed more fully on page nine.

There will be disastrous consequences for unborn children, the medically dependent, and the elderly if this Obama healthcare law is allowed to unfold and go into effect,” concluded NRLC’s O’Steen.