Permanent end to taxpayer abortion funding called long overdue

WASHINGTON – The effort to make permanent a ban on federal funding of abortion is both long overdue and widely supported by Americans, an official of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told a House subcommittee Feb. 8.

Richard M. Doerflinger, associate director of the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, was one of three witnesses testifying on the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, H.R. 3, before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution.

“H.R. 3 is a well-crafted and reasonable measure to maintain long-standing and widely supported policies against active government promotion of abortion,” he said. “It consistently applies to all branches of the federal government the principle that government can encourage childbirth over abortion through its funding power, and that it should not coerce anyone’s involvement in abortion.”

In his testimony, Doerflinger cited past surveys showing that the Hyde amendment – attached to annual Department of Health and Human Services appropriations bills since 1976 – has “consistently had the support of the American people,” with many wrongly assuming that “it is already fully implemented at all levels of our federal government.”

“The fact is that Congress’ policy has been remarkably consistent for decades, but the implementation of that policy in practice has been piecemeal, confusing and sometimes sadly inadequate,” he said.

Gaps and loopholes have been found that allowed or could have allowed for the funding of abortions through the Indian Health Service, state Medicaid funding to HMOs and Medicare reimbursements for nonelderly disabled people, he added.

He urged Congress to “finally put a stop to this ungainly mechanism and simply apply the principle of the Hyde amendment across the federal government once and for all.”

Also addressing the subcommittee Feb. 8 were Cathy Cleaver Ruse, senior fellow for legal studies at the Family Research Council and a former spokeswoman for the USCCB on pro-life issues; and Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University.

Ruse said the Hyde amendment represented a consensus between those who support abortion and those who oppose it.

“A majority of ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ Americans came together in agreement that, whatever their differences on the underlying question of legality, the government should not subsidize abortions,” she said.

“H.R. 3 does not impact in any way the legality of any abortion, nor does it strengthen or diminish the arguments on either side of the abortion divide,” Ruse added.

But it does respond to President Barack Obama’s call to “find common ground” on abortion, she said.

“For over three decades, Americans have come together in what may be the only truly bipartisan agreement possible: That whatever our differences on the underlying question of legality, we agree that the federal government should not subsidize abortions with taxpayer dollars,” Ruse said. “This is the common ground on abortion in America. H.R. 3 would make that common ground statutory law.”

Rosenbaum, who testified that H.R. 3 would have adverse effects on the tax treatment of health insurance and health care expenditures, also spoke at a Feb. 9 hearing on the Protect Life Act before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health.

Other witnesses at that hearing were Helen Alvare, an associate professor at George Mason University School of Law and Ruse’s predecessor as the USCCB pro-life spokeswoman, and Douglas Johnson, director of federal legislation for the National Right to Life Committee.

The bill on which they were testifying would make changes in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to ensure that there is no federal funding of abortion and the conscience rights of health providers are protected.

Alvare focused her remarks on the conscience protection aspects of the legislation, saying that conscience protection should not be seen as “a zero-sum game between conscience-driven health care providers and the patients they serve, particularly the most vulnerable women.”

“The nation can and should both respect conscience-driven health care providers, and deliver to the most vulnerable Americans the health care their human dignity requires,” she told the subcommittee.

Those who oppose conscience protections “are only attempting to force the government and conscience-driven private providers to give them what the market has steadfastly refused to do,” Alvare said. “If opponents of conscience believe this to be too few abortions, current law leaves them free to provide more abortion services.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.