Poll: Americans say bill will cover abortions

Updated 9:20 p.m. Eastern with new Obama quote

WASHINGTON (BP)--In a sign that arguments by the pro-life community may be swaying public opinion, a new NBC News poll shows that Americans, by a 13-point margin, believe the health care plan likely will use federal dollars to fund abortions.

The poll was released Tuesday as a leading conservative organization, the Family Research Council Action, prepares to air its second television advertisement arguing that the various health care bills, as written, leave the door open to abortion funding. The survey of 805 adults found that 50 percent agree the plan "likely will use taxpayer dollars to pay for women to have abortions." Thirty-seven percent say it is unlikely.

Independent analyses largely have backed up pro-lifers' claims. An Aug. 5 Associated Press story said that "health care legislation before Congress would allow a new government-sponsored insurance plan to cover abortions." Likewise, an Aug. 13 ABC News story said that "under health care reform lower income Americans would have their health care subsidized by the government, and they will be allowed to pick a health plan that covers abortion."

Significantly, President Obama and White House officials have gone out of their way in recent days to tackle what they view as health care bill "myths," but they have said little about abortion. Of the 13 White House website "Health Insurance Reform Reality Check" videos, none deal with abortion. During a conference call with liberal religious organizations Wednesday evening, Obama did, for the first time this summer, address the issue, saying, "We've heard that this is all going to mean government funding of abortion. Not true. These are all fabrications." He did not, though, go into detail about any of the charges.

Pro-life organizations were quick to point out that every House and Senate amendment that would have explicitly prevented taxpayer dollars for abortions was defeated. And, they also noted that Obama, when a candidate, publicly supported abortion funding in a health care plan.

The current health care-abortion debate concerns three primary issues:

1) whether a public option (a government-run plan) will cover abortion.

2) whether federal subsidies to low-income people can be used to purchase private insurance plans that cover abortion.

3) whether the federal government will mandate that private insurance plans cover a list of "essential benefits," and whether that list of benefits will include abortions.

Even if the final version of a health care bill does not include a public option -- a big "if," given that leading House Democrats back a public option -- there are still major concerns for pro-lifers, says Douglas Johnson, the National Right to Life Committee's legislative director. He notes that current law prohibits the federal employees health plan -- the same health insurance plan that members of Congress have -- to cover abortions. That principle, he said, should apply to any health care bill.

"You've heard those in Congress say many times, 'I want every American to have as good a health plan as we in Congress have.' Well, let's apply this [restriction on abortion funding] as well," he told Baptist Press. "... If we talk about insurance plans, health plans of any type, [under current law] federal funds cannot flow into a fund that includes abortion coverage."

The leading House bill, H.R. 3200, includes an amendment by Rep. Lois Capps, D.-Calif., that she and the bill's supporters say will prevent any public plan from funding abortions with tax dollars. But Johnson and other critics say the amendment amounts to a bookkeeping gimmick. According to the Associated Press, ABC News and other independent analyses, the Capps amendment will allow abortion funding in the public option, as long as the funding comes from premium payments, and not public money.

"They're making a distinction that doesn't really make much sense," Johnson said. "... You have a federal agency collecting these monies, getting bills from the abortionists and sending checks to the abortionists drawn on a federal account. And they want to make a hyper-technical distinction that these are not tax funds? The federal government is running the whole scheme from start to finish."

The new TV advertisement by the Family Research Council Action, like its first one, argues that the health care bill will lead not only to government funding of abortion but also to the rationing of health care for the elderly. With the camera panning to show family pictures in a house, a narrator says:

"Your loved one denied surgery; a government bureaucrat decided it wasn't needed. Your hard-earned tax dollars funding abortions; liberals in Congress decided they are needed. Congress will soon vote on President Obama's health care bill -- a bill limiting our choices to preserve life and expanding the choice to end one. Our greatest generation denied care; our future generation denied life."

FRC Action's first ad, which dealt with the same subject, aired on cable news in Arkansas, Nebraska, Louisiana, Alaska and Pennsylvania and had about $500,000 behind it. Both ads ask viewers to call their senator. The Senate is seen as the biggest roadblock for any health care bill.

During a conference call with reporters Wednesday, FRC Action President Tony Perkins said "we stand by the message of our ads."

"We readily acknowledge," he said, "that if you do a word search of the 1,000-plus page bill, you will not find the word 'abortion.' You also will not find the word 'tonsillectomy,' nor will you find the word 'bypass.' But you will find 'essential health care services,' and when you follow the trail to how this administration defines that, they include reproductive health care, which this administration readily admits includes abortion."

As a candidate, Obama told Planned Parenthood during a 2007 speech that abortion coverage is "at the center, the heart of the plan that I propose." He also said that "insurers are going to have to abide by the same rules in terms of providing comprehensive care, including reproductive care."

Although he has been largely silent on the issue this year, Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, a Democrat from New York and chairwoman of the House Rules Committee, has not been.

"The starting point for Rep. Slaughter on the health care debate was protecting abortion rights," her spokesman, Vincent Morris, told the Los Angeles Times.


Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. To view FRC's ads, visit FRCAction.org.

Download Story