Stupak Smoke Signals

Rep. Bart Stupak is being coy. On Monday, the anti-choice Democrat told a town hall meeting that there was "no such thing as compromise" on abortion funding under health care reform. Yet, in the next breath, he said he was "more optimistic than [he] was a week ago" that some kind of deal could be worked out.

Stupak claims to represent a coalition of 12 anti-choice Democrats who will vote against health care reform unless their demands are met. The original House health care bill only passed by 5 votes, so a 12-vote bloc would be a real obstacle to final passage.

Stupak has been meeting with the Democratic leadership in an attempt to hammer out a compromise. It's not clear what he's demanding behind closed doors, but it's safe to assume that it's not the demands he offers for public consumption. His public demands are predicated on gross factual errors.

Stupak claims to object to the Senate health care bill because it would fund abortions. Yet, the Senate bill does nothing of the kind. The 30-year-old Hyde Amendment prohibits all federal spending on elective abortions. Hyde would apply to health care reform, as it would to any other government program. So, the notion that the Senate bill would subsidize abortions is specious on its face.

Here's what Stupak really objects to, and what he tried to kill with his eponymous Stupak Amendment to the House bill: The Senate bill would allow people buying government-subsidized insurance to buy abortion coverage with their own money. Stupak disingenuously and incorrectly calls this a government subsidy of abortion.

Under health reform, government subsidies would only cover a portion of monthly premiums, with consumers making up the difference out of pocket. The Senate bill would ensure that abortion coverage comes only from the out-of-pocket dollars, not from the subsidy.

The principle of segregating funds is standard throughout the government. For example, both Planned Parenthood and the Catholic Church get government funds to provide health care. Planned Parenthood offers abortions, but not with government money. The Catholic Church proselytizes, but not with government money.

Stupak says that every dollar the government spends on not-abortion-insurance is one more dollar the individual has to spend on abortion coverage. Well, every dollar a Catholic hospital gets to run an emergency room is one extra dollar to spend on proselytizing.

If you take Stupak's tortured theory of subsidies to its ultimate and logical conclusion, almost all government spending turns out to be a crypto-abortion subsidy: In Stupakland, the Department of Transportation is subsidizing abortion because it pays for roads, which women sometimes drive on to reach abortion clinics. Food stamps subsidize abortion because every dollar the government spends on food is another dollar to use for abortion. Farm subsidies are really abortion subsidies because the less we pay for high fructose corn syrup, the more money is left over for abortion. There's a saying in Stupakland, "A penny saved is a penny saved for abortion!"

It would be funny if it weren't so nefarious. In the short term, Stupak wants to force women to give up abortion coverage in exchange for help with their health insurance premiums. His ultimate goal is to drive abortion coverage out of private health insurance.

If health care reform works as advertised, a large segment of the insurance market will gravitate to the exchanges. Insurers will want to do business there because that's where the customers and the subsidies, will be.

Eliminating abortion coverage on the exchange would be just the beginning. Currently the vast majority of insurers cover elective abortions because it saves them money. Abortion is cheap and prenatal care, labor, and delivery are expensive. However, Stupak is betting that if private insurers can't offer abortion coverage through the exchange, they'll stop offering it to anyone. The anti-choicers hope that private insurers will drop abortion coverage because it's too big a hassle for them to offer separate kinds of coverage. Many observers fear that the restrictions in the Senate bill alone would be enough to kill private abortion coverage.

It's impossible to know what Stupak might mean when he says that he and the Democrats are closer to a deal. The House might be considering some stand-alone piece of legislation to indulge him. On the other hand, some observers have speculated that some of Stupak's allies want to use abortion as an excuse to torpedo health reform. In Bart Stupak, they've found a zealot who will cheerfully torpedo health insurance for >30 million Americans and doom his party in the midterm elections over phantom "abortion subsidies." By giving false hope of progress and dragging out the negotiations indefinitely, they might kill the bill. The Stupak pack hasn't negotiated in good faith so far, why would they start now?

Photo Credit: Steve Rhodes, licensed under Creative Commons.

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