10:38am

Fri January 21, 2011
It's All Politics

House GOP Pushes To End Health Insurance Abortion Coverage

If you're confused by the back and forth over whether the new health care law expands abortion access or not, you're definitely not alone.

The claims made on either side of that debate are stated with equal force.

But from the Morning Edition report by NPR's Julie Rovner, it seems safe to say that the new law doesn't expand access to abortions.

The real issue, according to her report, is that abortion foes want to end any tax preferences for health insurance policies that include abortion coverage.

Since the entire system of employer provided health insurance is built on the tax deductibility of such policies, the effort by abortion foes is meant to force plans to drop abortion coverage from the array of services.

Here's a key bit of Julie's report on the debate which took on new urgency Thursday when Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, introduced legislation meant to achieve that end:

JULIE: But whether the law actually does allow federal abortion funding is still the subject of a heated debate. While abortion opponents say it does, abortion-rights groups say it does not.

And not only that — supporters of abortion-rights say it actually puts new restrictions on the procedure. That's because it requires women to buy separate insurance policies if they want abortion coverage provided by their insurance plan. Donna Crane is NARAL's policy director.

CRANE: Eighty seven percent of plans sold in this country today do include abortion coverage as a standard benefit. It's basically sort of the industry standard.

JULIE: Other surveys have found abortion coverage less pervasive than that, but still widespread.

But it's not just abortion-rights groups that say the law didn't expand abortion access.

Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University and prominent anti-abortion voice, says what many Republicans are saying about the law and abortion is simply not so.

JOST: Both the federal court in Virginia and the Ohio Elections Commission determined that the claim that the Affordable Care Act funds abortion is false.

The question is not whether we're going to strip abortion funding from health care reform. The question is how much further Congress is willing to to go to remove tax subsidies for abortion coverage that is currently available.

ROVNER: Congressman Smith's bill would do more than just write into law existing abortion restrictions. It would also eliminate tax benefits for insurance policies that cover abortion — even abortions in most cases of medical necessity.

The tax code has long been used to incent some behaviors to get more of them and disincent other behaviors to get less of them. So what abortion foes are doing by trying to change the tax treatment of health insurance policies that include abortion coverage clearly runs along those lines.

And that's where the real fight is, it seems, with the new law.

The other part of the debate, the "yes it does" "no it doesn't" part of the debate having to do with whether or not the law funds abortions seems more a distraction than anything else.

By the way, some opponents of the House Republicans actions Thursday on abortion are accusing them of veering off the focus on jobs they promised, of doing a bait and switch.

But in their Pledge to America, House Republicans pledged to permanently end taxpayer funding of abortion and to end subsidies for insurance coverage that includes abortion. It's right there on page 28 of the document.

So Thursday's announcement of the anti-abortion legislation wasn't a bait and switch and shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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