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Legatus Magazine

Cover Story
Dorinda C. Bordlee | author
Nov 01, 2009
Filed under Culture of Life

Bearing false witness: abortion in health care reform

Dorinda Bordlee: Current bills embrace the fallacy that abortion is health care . . .

Dorinda Bordlee

Dorinda Bordlee

Quoting one of the Ten Commandments, President Barack Obama has accused American citizens who are shedding light on the details of health care reform of “bearing false witness.” It’s remarkable that the president is accusing citizens of sinning, but his reproach became even more brazen when the independent at the University of Pennsylvania confirmed that it’s the president himself who is doing the fabricating.

“Despite what Obama said, the House bill would allow abortions to be covered by a federal plan and by federally subsidized private plans,” reported on Aug. 21.

As a lawyer, Obama chooses his words very carefully to mislead us. The proposals he supports in both the House and the Senate authorize government funding of abortion on demand. The details of the abortion-funding schemes (and the end-of-life counseling and rationing incentives) are outlined at

But there is something even more disturbing than his false accusations against those of us who are simply articulating what is actually written in black and white in these bills: He is using the unmet health care needs of uninsured and underinsured Americans as a sheepskin to cover the wolf of his long-desired agenda of government-funded abortion on demand.

Addressing Planned Parenthood on July 17, 2007, then-candidate Obama said that in “my mind, reproductive care is essential care.” He then went on to assure his audience that this would be covered by his public insurance plan: “We’re going to set up a public plan that all persons and all women can access if they don’t have health insurance. It will be a plan that will provide all essential services, including reproductive services.” Obama did not use the word “abortion,” but, according to the Chicago Tribune, a spokesman for the campaign said later that abortion would be included.

Yet, there remains much public consternation and confusion as to whether or not the current bills provide government-funded abortion coverage. This unease is not surprising when public opposition to such coverage is mounting as demonstrated by recent polls. A September survey commissioned by the U.S. bishops revealed that 60% of those who support health care reform oppose government funding for plans that include abortion. Recent Rasmussen and Susan B. Anthony List polls found similar results.

Attempts by pro-life congressmen to amend the House bill with language specifically prohibiting publicly funded abortion coverage have all been rejected. Therefore, the truth remains that if passed in any of its current forms, legislation backed by the Obama administration in both the House and Senate will authorize broad federal funding of abortion. This is why, in late July, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to the House bill (H.R. 3200) proposed by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) as a putative “compromise” on the abortion coverage issue. Through a deceptive scheme of linguistic gymnastics, the Capps Amendment explicitly authorizes the Secretary of the Health and Human Services to include coverage for elective abortions in the services offered under public option and mandates coverage for current Medicaid abortions.

If retained in a final form of the bill, the Capps Amendment would indeed allow broad federal funding of abortion for the first time in American history. Specifically, H.R. 3200 states that some abortions “shall” be covered by the “public option” plan, specifically those types of abortions performed in cases or rape or incest — or to save the life of the mother. As for all other abortions, the Capps Amendment grants power to the secretary of Health and Human Services to use public dollars for abortion. It says that “nothing in this Act shall be construed as preventing the public health insurance option from providing” abortion services that are currently prohibited from federal funding — principally elective abortions.

Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate finance committee, recently introduced a proposal — America’s Healthy Future Act. While not contemplating a public option, it is nonetheless geared to secure abortion coverage in a manner very similar to the Capps Amendment. It includes the mandated coverage (in the minimum benefits package) of those abortions currently open to federal funding under the Hyde Amendment. Additionally, the Baucus plan provides $6 billion for the establishment of health insurance cooperatives which would be permitted to cover abortion. And unlike the current federal practice of not subsidizing plans that cover abortion, the Baucus plan would allow refundable, advanceable tax credits and cost-sharing credits to be applied to plans that pay for elective abortions.

The current proposals embrace the fallacy that abortion is health care. In reality, abortion is the opposite of health care — it destroys the life of a unique and unrepeatable human being, and it endangers the physical, psychological and spiritual health of women who have paid the price for this exploitive practice for far too long. If the Obama administration insists on lifting current restrictions on federally funded abortions by means of health care reform legislation, Americans are at least entitled to an honest admission of that objective — and to truth in packaging.

Dorinda C. Bordlee is senior counsel of the pro-life public interest law firm Bioethics Defense Fund, which is in strategic alliance with the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person headed by co-author Fr. Thomas Berg, Ph.D., a bioethics expert in the Archdiocese of New York.


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