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Finance Committee Rejects Abortion Amendment

September 30, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate Finance Committee today rejected an amendment from Sen. Orrin Hatch [R, UT] that would have prohibited federal subsidies from being used to buy insurance plans that include coverage for abortions. If women wanted the coverage, the amendment would require them to purchase it separately as an unsubsidized supplemental plan, called a rider.

Citing President Obama’s statement in his speech to Congress that "no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place, " Hatch said that his amendment was seeking assurances. “All I’m asking — my gosh — is for specific language in the bill that prohibits federal dollars from being used to fund abortions,” Hatch said.

The Senate Finance Committee’s health care proposal, like the others in Congress, does not change current law that already bars federal funding for abortions except for cases involving rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother. In fact, in the section describing health care subsidies, the “mark” clearly states, “Federal conscience protections and abortion-related antidiscrimination laws would not be affected by the bill.” The legislation would require insurers to segregate any federal subsidies from the policyholders’ share of the premium to ensure that the policyholders’ are paying enough to cover the cost of any abortion services that are provided.

Sen. Debbie Ann Stabenow [D, MI] called Hatch’s amendment “offensive.” "This is an unprecedented restriction on people who pay for their own health insurance,” she said.

The final vote on the amendment was 10-13, with Sen. Olympia Snowe [R, ME] voting with Democrats against it and Sen. Kent Conrad [D, ND] voting in favor with Republicans.

The full text of the Hatch amendment is below:

Hatch Amendment #C14 to America’s Healthy Future Act of 2009

Short Title: Prohibits authorized or appropriated federal funds under this Mark from being used for elective abortions and plans that cover such abortions.

Description:

No funds authorized or appropriated under this Mark may be used to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion, except in the case where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, or unless the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.
Nothing in this amendment would preclude an insurance issuer from offering a separate, supplemental policy to cover additional abortions. Such a supplemental policy would be funded solely by supplemental premiums paid for by individuals choosing to purchase the policy.

Rationale:

All other major federal health programs preclude federal funds from being used to support abortion or any benefits package that includes abortion, beyond the limited circumstances of life endangerment and rape/incest. In some programs such as SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) this is written into permanent law; in others, such as Medicaid, Medicare and FEHBP (Federal Employees Health Benefits Program) longstanding appropriations riders, the Hyde amendment and parallel provisions, have long prevented federal funds from paying for abortions or from supporting any of the costs of a health plan that includes them. In FEHBP, because federal funds are used to supplement private premium dollars, all the health plans offered to federal employees must completely exclude abortion except for these very limited circumstances. This amendment would respect the same policy in the health care reform legislation, while allowing truly private insurance coverage for elective abortions to continue as long as this is done through a supplemental policy, chosen and funded by the purchaser and kept completely separate from the federally subsidized package of benefits. In this way longstanding federal policy on abortion funding will be preserved, anyone who wants abortion coverage may purchase it, and people will not be forced to pay for other people’s abortions.

Offset: Not applicable.

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