Why A “Public Option” Will Lead to Abortion Coverage

Deal W. Hudson
October 12, 2009

This week, the Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to vote on the health-care bill. If it passes, the Finance bill will be reconciled with the bill already passed by the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Then health-care reform will go to the Senate floor for a vote.

The Finance Committee version does not contain the “public option,” government-run insurance to compete with private insurance carriers. The Health Committee version, meanwhile, includes the public option and requires employers to offer their employees health insurance. Both versions leave the door open to abortion coverage. And it’s very likely that any health-care legislation that makes it to the desk of President Obama will ultimately contain the public option since both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi view it as “essential.”

While the bishops have made it very clear they will not support any reform that includes abortion, they are in favor of a public option, viewing it as the key to meeting two of their three health-care criteria: that it should be affordable and accessible to everyone, including legal immigrants and “those who live at or near the poverty level.” But do they realize that, with a public option, abortion coverage will inevitably follow – if not now, then assuredly later?

Even if the bishops are successful in closing the door on abortion coverage, the presence of the public option in the bill virtually guarantees that it will be added later on. Why? Supporters will make the argument that a government-run insurance program cannot deny its clients’ coverage being offered by private insurance carriers. If Congress or the White House doesn’t add abortion coverage to the public option, you can be sure the courts will.

The bishops’ first non-negotiable criterion for health-care reform is that it must “exclude mandated coverage for abortion” and include “conscience rights.” But once the government is called upon to provide the coverage for these underserved groups, it’s highly unlikely that abortion coverage can be avoided. Catholics nationwide will then be funding abortion with their tax dollars.

Planned Parenthood’s Guttmacher Institute has estimated that “18 to 35 percent of women who would have had an abortion continued their pregnancies after Medicaid funding was cut off.” It follows, then, that the rate of abortion would drastically increase – 240,000 to 420,000 more a year – with more government funding. It would be a terrible thing if support for the public option led to federally funded abortion coverage and, as predicted, to a dramatic increase in the taking of unborn life.

The USCCB has promised “to oppose the health care bill vigorously” if it contains abortion coverage. Rather than waiting to act vigorously against an abortion mandate, why not act vigorously in favor of the amendments being offered to bar federal funds for abortion from any health-care legislation?

The problem is that, until now, most Catholics in Congress seemed indifferent to the concerns of the USCCB on pro-life issues. The majority of Catholics in Congress consistently vote in support of abortion. For example, 16 Catholic Senators voted against, while only 9 voted for, the Coburn amendment to the budget bill that would have protected a conscience clause for health-care workers.

Concern about the implications of the public option is, no doubt, a prudential matter. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with government-run medical care, and most other developed countries have it. But most of these other countries have given up on the fight to defend unborn life and have embraced the secularism that comes with that indifference.

Making a call about where the public option will lead shows the importance of prudential judgments. Let’s hope and pray the bishops can prevail in eliminating abortion coverage from any health-care bill that reaches the White House. But if that bill contains the public option, the bishops may soon be facing the law of unintended consequences, as abortion activists immediately ask the courts to put back in what was taken out.

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