Straight Talk About Health Care Reform and Abortion

11/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Judi Jennings Executive Director, Kentucky Foundation for Women

In her syndicated column on September 7th, Kathleen Parker rightly noted that "Somewhere between hysterical claims that Americans will be forced to pay for abortions and assertions that no federal funds will go toward abortion is a more nuanced, if less interesting, truth." Yet Parker puts snarkiness before nuance in some of her statements about this highly charged public debate. Since accurate information is so important in developing sound national policies about health care and reproductive justice, it is important to set the record straight about some misleading statements made by Parker.

Parker references a May 2009 Gallup Poll that shows 51% of those polled were anti-abortion and 42% were pro-choice. However, a more recent (and the latest) Gallup Poll, conducted in mid-July, shows a much closer margin, with 47% anti-abortion and 46% pro-choice. Even more importantly, the poll indicated that only 18% of people think that abortion should be illegal.

It is very important that members of the public understand that the version of the Hyde Amendment that is included in the Labor/Health and Human Services/Education bill states: "None of the funds appropriated in this Act, and none of the funds in any trust fund to which funds are appropriated in this Act, shall be expended for any abortion." The only exceptions provided for in the Hyde Amendment are for pregnancies that are "the result of an act of rape or incest" or in cases where a woman is "in danger of death unless an abortion is performed."

An amendment by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), which the House Energy and Commerce Committee agreed to by a 30-28 vote, prohibits "the expenditure of Federal funds" for abortions the Department of Health and Human Services cannot cover. As long as the Hyde Amendment remains in place to prohibit Health and Human Services for paying for abortions in most circumstances, the Capps amendment would prohibit federal money expended under the health reform bill for paying for abortions in the same cases.

The FY 2009 omnibus appropriations act reaffirms the Hyde Amendment: "None of the funds appropriated in this Act and none of the funds in any trust funds to which funds are appropriated in this Act, shall be expended for any abortion, except when a woman is in danger of death unless an abortion is performed" but includes exceptions for pregnancies that are "the result of an act of rape or incest."

As the New York Times reported on September 12th, "the Capps amendment will almost certainly not be the last word in this debate." Some, but not all, anti-abortion groups are insisting, for example, it is not enough to separate the premiums paid by individuals from potential government contributions to public or private plans as provided for in the Capps Amendment. But, as reported in the Times, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious leaders seem ready to declare a truce on the seemingly irreconcilable moral battles over abortion in the interests of supporting workable health care reform. It's going to take a lot of straight talk and a commitment to finding common ground about what is best for women and their families to achieve health care reform. The time to start talking -- and thinking -- straight about abortion and health care is now.