Senate Leadership Unveils Bill with Unacceptable Abortion Provisions

November 25, 2009
The leadership of the US Senate has unveiled its version of the health care reform bill.  The Senate bill provides federal funding for plans that cover abortion, and creates an unprecedented mandatory “abortion surcharge” in such plans that will require pro-life purchasers to pay directly and explicitly for other people’s abortions.  Its version of a public health plan (the “community health insurance plan”) allows the Secretary of HHS to mandate coverage of unlimited abortions nationwide, and also allows each state to mandate such abortion coverage for all state residents taking part in this federal program even if the Secretary does not do so.

The bill seriously weakens the current nondiscrimination policy protecting providers who decline involvement in abortion, providing stronger protection for facilities that perform and promote abortion than for those which do not. The legislation requires each region of the insurance exchange to include at least one health plan with unlimited abortion, contrary to the policy of all other federal health programs.

Critically important conscience protections on issues beyond abortion have not been included in the bill.  To take just one example, the bill fails to ensure that even religious institutions would retain the freedom to offer their own employees health insurance coverage that conforms to that institution’s teaching.

There are other concerns, including the fact that the Senate bill would bar illegal immigrants from purchasing health care coverage in the exchange with their own money.  Without such access, many immigrant families would be unable to receive primary care and would be compelled to rely on emergency room care. This would harm not only immigrants and their families, but also the general public health. Moreover, the financial burden on the American public would be higher, as Americans would pay for uncompensated medical care through the federal budget or higher insurance rates.