The health-care bills currently being drafted in Congress say nothing about abortion. In pro-life-speak, that means a "hidden abortion mandate," and Democrats are scrambling to keep abortion opponents from derailing health-care reform.
Specifically, the legislation calls for an "essential benefits package" to be defined by either the Secretary of Health and Human Services or by a group of experts. This package hasn't been defined yet, and may not include abortion, but abortion foes are concerned it will, meaning the government may subsidize abortions and then — poof! — everyone will be getting them. Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee says that current legislation "will result in massive public subsidies for abortion and result in a massive increase in the number of abortions." To prevent this Sodom-and-Gomorrah situation, anti-abortion groups and some members of Congress want federal funding for abortion specifically excluded from any health-care reform bill (despite the fact that what services are included hasn't even been decided yet, and probably won't be decided by Congress). A group of Congresspeople sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi in June calling for such an explicit exclusion, and citing research that shows "that about one third of women who would have had an abortion if support were available carried their pregnancies to term when the abortion fund was unavailable."
Apparently, anti-abortionists want to keep women from getting abortions by making it too expensive. (Because the best way to force poor people to abide by your moral vision is to make it the only vision they can afford.) A group of House Democrats have proposed a "common ground solution" that will keep abortions expensive while also keeping the abortion issue from destroying the entire health-care reform process — private insurers will be neither required nor forbidden to cover abortion, but no government funding will be used to pay for abortions. This plan's proponents say it "maintains the current status quo in the private market," but Stephanie Condon at CBS writes, "if no federal dollars were allowed to fund abortion, many women could end up losing benefits they currently have." Medicaid currently covers abortion only in "extraordinary circumstances," and either 46% or 87% of people with employer-based health insurance currently have abortion coverage, depending on who you believe.
According to Ben Smith, Obama seems to be leaning toward this "common ground solution," which is probably good for the future of health care reform in general, but bad for reproductive choice. Unfortunately, it's another instance where "common ground" means caving to the right.
Health-Care Reform Efforts Marred by Abortion Dispute [Washington Post]
Abortion And The Public Option [Politico]
Obama: Abortion Funding Not Main Focus Of Health Reform [CBS]
Members Propose Abortion 'Common Ground' [Politico]
Abortion Wars Spill Over To Health Care [Politico]
Guttmacher Institute Memo On Insurance Coverage Of Abortion [Guttmacher Institute]
House Dems Propose Maintaining 'Status Quo' On Abortion Funding [Washington Post]