Health Law Sparks Abortion Fight In Pennsylvania

You knew this was just bound to happen.

Abortion opponents say the administration is already breaking the promise it made as part of the new health law not to fund elective abortions. It was that promise – in the form of an executive order by President Obama issued in March – that helped secure the last few votes needed to win final approval of the landmark measure in the House.

Only their complaints appear to be a bit, well, premature.

The National Right to Life Committee, Family Research Council, and House Minority Leader John Boehner, (R-OH) are up in arms about what they contend is Pennsylvania’s plan to provide abortion coverage to people who sign up for the state’s new high-risk health insurance plan.

According to the NRLC’s Douglas Johnson, the program approved for Pennsylvania “will cover any abortion that is legal in Pennsylvania.” He says that’s because while the proposal itself states that “elective abortions are not covered,” in practice that’s an obstacle easily surmounted.

That’s because language elsewhere in Pennsylvania law allows a doctor to perform an abortion if that physician believes it “‘necessary’ based on ‘all factors (physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age) relevant to the well-being of the woman.'”

According to the abortion foes, that means basically abortion on demand, for any reason, except sex-selection (which is specifically cited as impermissible). Or, as Rep. Boehner put it, “This is the boldest admission yet from the Obama administration that the President’s Executive Order on taxpayer-funded abortion was a sham.”

Only there’s one problem. Both Obama Administration and Pennsylvania officials say the NRLC’s interpretation is simply incorrect – elective abortions will NOT be allowed in the new program.

“Pennsylvania has not signed a contract yet to start operating their Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan,” said HHS Spokeswoman Jenny Backus. And when they do, she added, “our contract that states are signing says clearly that we will be issuing guidance on the administration of Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan so they know they will have to live by our guidance per the contract” when it comes to abortion coverage.

And that’s no problem, says Rosanne Placey, of the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance. “Very simply, federal law controls. We know that,” she said. “We absolutely do not cover elective abortions.

“We are drawing down federal money. We do that in more that one program,” she said, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Programs, which similarly ban abortion. “We understand that.”

Meanwhile, the assault has drawn complaints from some unexpected quarters.

Democrats for Life, which opposes abortion but supported the health law, was quick to praise Pennsylvania for being quick to get its program up and running, and chide those who would attack it. “While Republicans continue to find reasons to criticize and mischaracterize aspects of the reform bill, we will work to ensure the law will provide affordable and accessible health care for millions of Americans while upholding the longstanding ban on public funding of abortion,” said DFL Executive Director Kristen Day.

The more abortion-rights leaning Faith in Public Life blog also took the complainers to task. “Rather than checking the facts, National Right to Life Committee, Family Research Council and John Boehner chose to spread misinformation on the sensitive topic of abortion,” wrote Dan Nejfelt. “Once again we see the issue of abortion used as a political weapon serving partisan ends.”