No Public Funding of Abortion: Myth or Status Quo?

In recent months, primarily due to the health care debate, much attention has been given to the contentious issue of public funding of abortion. Though it is true that the status quo, for the most part, has been not to directly subsidize abortion, Americans have been both directly and indirectly subsidizing abortion in a number of ways virtually since its legalization in 1973.

The Guttmacher Institute claims that 87 percent of employer-based insurance plans cover abortions. Critics of the Guttmacher Institute, such as Dr. Robert Moffitt, the deputy secretary of Health and Human Services in the Reagan administration, argue that a more conservative estimate around 46 percent is more reasonable. Either way, many Americans, simply by paying their private insurance premiums, may be financing a funding-pool that can be drawn from by insurance policyholders to cover an abortion. Unfortunately, there has been no considerable study of abortion and health insurance, thus, there is no credible data to suggest the actual impact on the abortion rate by private insurance companies offering abortion coverage. This, of course, is not grounds to assume that the impact is minimal.

Americans also support abortion, albeit indirectly, through the companies and non-profits with whom they do business. According to Foundation Watch, major corporate donors to Planned Parenthood include J.P. Morgan Chase (nearly $60,000), Johnson & Johnson (over $26,000), Nationwide (nearly $13,000), Prudential Financial (over $11,500), American Express (over $11, 300), Bank of America (over $6,000). Microsoft founder Bill Gates gives millions to Planned Parenthood and other like-minded agencies promoting eugenic population control efforts in third world countries. The Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer research, a worthy and commendable cause in itself, also gives money to Planned Parenthood. Girl Scouts of the USA, while not nationally aligned with Planned Parenthood,  have been known to support local efforts of Planned Parenthood, sometimes financially. This is not true of all newspapers and media groups, but a number of them do donate to Planned Parenthood, including the parent company of the New York Times. According to Life Decisions International, the American Automobile Association (AAA), The Salvation Army, Rotary International, American Diabetes Association, and the Young Women’s Christian Association  (YWCA) are among the non-profit organizations that have funded Planned Parenthood. This list is obviously not exhaustive of all of Planned Parenthood’s direct and indirect support.

The private sector aside, there are bigger problems regarding public financing of abortion. Medicaid is a federal-state cooperative health insurance program for poor Americans who could not otherwise afford medical coverage. Funding for the program is split half-and-half between the federal government and each state. Federal monies cannot be used to subsidize abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or the life of the mother. Each individual state may adopt the same policy as the federal government or cover abortion in additional instances. Currently, 32 states simply adopt the policy of the federal government, funding abortion only in the cases of rape, incest, and life of the mother.  However, 17 states use their own state funds to cover all “medically necessary” abortions, which essentially are elective abortions. Since Medicaid is a joint federal-state program, the money typically goes into a single fund and there are no rigidly enforced statues requiring a strict segregation of funds so that federal dollars are not financing abortions—often enough, segregating of funds usually turns out to be nothing more than an accounting scheme. It is a grave evil, either way, that any funds—federal or state dollars—subsidize abortion. The issue of fungibility of funds cannot be the end of our concern lest our credibility be compromised.

On other fronts, abortion-related troubles are just as grave. During the nominally pro-life Bush Administration, there was considerable federal funding of abortion. Planned Parenthood received funding through the Title XIX (Medicaid) and Title X appropriations to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, gaining over $50 million per year through each program.

The Title X  appropriation which funds a “comprehensive” sex education and contraception program is particularly alarming. Its prime recipients are Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion organizations and facilities. While Title X monies cannot be used directly to fund abortions by organizations such as Planned Parenthood who provide abortions, the increase of available funds can be used to offset operational costs and free up resources that can be used to promote and expand abortion services. For the fiscal year 2008, the tax-exempt “non-profit” abortion provider Planned Parenthood reported taking in $1.0381 billion dollars in revenues.  More than a third of Planned Parenthood’s budget (roughly $350 million) came from grants from the federal government. In other words, taxpayers directly underwrite abortion by underwriting abortion providers.

Despite this obvious problem, President Bush signed the appropriations bill increasing the Title X funding level to $265 million, a total of $11 million more than it had been in the last year of the Clinton Administration. In 2004 President Bush signed the annual appropriations bill increasing Title X funding to $280 million, a $26 million increase over his first term. After the election of a Democratic Congress in 2006, Title X received its largest funding increase in 35 years, totaling $310 million with the signature of the then-Republican president.

In the 1980s, President Reagan issued an executive order clarifying the statute prohibiting Title X funds cannot subsidize abortions to also mean “that Title X recipients may not refer for abortion or combine family planning services with abortion services.” Thus, under the Reagan Administration, health care professionals working in Title X-funded clinics were prohibiting from providing any abortion-related information or referrals. This policy was continued by President George H.W. Bush and was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1991. The executive order, however, was rescinded by President Clinton.

This regulation was surprisingly never reinstated by President Bush; federal appropriations to the Title X program increased every year underwriting the abortion business with taxpayer dollars, with the majority of those increases occurring with a Republican (and an allegedly pro-life) majority in Congress and all on the watch of a nominally pro-life Republican president.

By no stretch of the imagination could one imagine any of this changing during the Obama Administration. The current trend has continued, with the 2009 and 2010 Title X appropriations totaling $312 million and $317 million, respectively. President Obama in his 2011 budget proposal has suggested a $10 million increase in Title X spending, a total of $327 million.

It is worth noting that Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) introduced an amendment to the 2009 HHS Appropriations bill intended to de-fund Planned Parenthood. The amendment read: “None of the funds made available under this Act shall be available to Planned Parenthood for any purpose under Title X of the Public Health Services Act.” The amendment (surprisingly) passed out of committee but failed on a floor vote.

Unfortunately a few pro-life Democrats did not vote in favor of the Pence amendment, though many did. This issue—disunity in terms of congressional pro-life votes—has become quite a stumbling block for pro-life unity that must seriously and immediately addressed. This need not be downplayed nor need it be exaggerated—there are both wavering as well as courageous pro-life Democrats in Congress.

In the same instance, one must wonder why is it that the Pence amendment or another equally pro-life measure was not enacted in the six years of a Republican majority to ensure that organizations that provide or refer for abortions did not receive Title X funding? It is almost certain there were a sufficient number of yes-votes. This might be a cynical point (as well as true one) but it seems that the Republicans have gotten too comfortable not forcing the abortion issue by avoiding “showdowns” or any sort of direct confrontation that does not seem to carry with it any sort of political capital that benefit’s the party. In other words, it is not surprising (to a skeptical mind like my own) that Rep. Mike Pence, no matter how sincerely pro-life he may be, would offer such an amendment with a pro-abortion majority in Congress. There is political capital in the amendment’s victory as well as its failure—it is but another issue that the GOP can use against the Democrats. At the very least, the amendment distracts from the enormous sums that Planned Parenthood was receiving under a Republican President and congressional majority. If this is true, there is nothing particularly heroic about the amendment; it is nothing more than bait for pro-life voters.

Just recently, Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA) introduced The Protect Life Act. The bill is virtually identical to the Stupak-Pitts Amendment the Republican lawmaker co-authored with Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) last year that was added to the health care bill in the House of Representatives by a vote 240-194. The legislation would prohibit, clearly and concretely, subsidized abortion in the new medical and insurance reform laws and explicitly protect health care professions from being penalized for refusing to participate in providing abortions. If enacted the bill will ensure the pro-life measures endure and correct the deficiencies of the Executive Order regarding abortion-related provisions in the health care law signed by President Obama.

Since Roe v. Wade, U.S. courts have held firmly that when Congress provides funding for “comprehensive” health services there is no reason to distinguish elective abortions from any other medical service; therefore, the U.S. federal government must subsidize abortion services. This issue was resolved by annually renewing the Hyde Amendment, attached to several appropriation bills to prevent federal dollars from funding abortions.

In the Supreme Court case Beal v. Doe, the argument was if Congress fails to explicitly exclude abortion as a fundable by taxpayer dollars, it must be treated no differently than any other federally-subsidized medical care. In other words, the judicial standard is that without an explicit ban on abortion, such as the Hyde Amendment, federal law requires the federal government to pay for abortions through any federally-subsidized health services. Any appropriation of federal funds for “comprehensive health services” through any program and mechanism that, as written, bypasses the Hyde Amendment is subject under judicial precedent as necessarily inclusive of abortion funding.

The Executive Order is insecure in this regard. Health legislation, following nearly forty years of legal precedent, creates a statutory requirement for abortion funding unless Congress (not the President) clearly forbids such funding legislatively. This is why the Hyde Amendment is annually renewed in Congress when voting on appropriations to fund Medicaid. In the absence of Hyde, the U.S. government would be obligated by federal law to fund abortions through Medicaid.

The problem with President Obama’s Executive Order is that it is only enforceable until it is challenged in court. An executive order cannot change the law. Thus, President Obama’s Executive Order prohibiting federal funding of abortions is surely guaranteed to be defeated if it is ever challenged in federal courts. The track record of the pro-abortion lobby and lawyers on this issue does not inspire the slightest bit of confidence that they will not address this issue at their earliest opportunity. 

The Protect Life Act politically faces a number of challenges; its predecessor the Stupak-Pitts Amendment secured a comfortable victory in the U.S. House and this bill—if it manages to make it out of committee—should be able to obtain 216 (or after all special elections, the usual 218) votes  for passage. The problem, like with abortion-related questions in the health care debate, is that the measure will be defeated soundly in the Senate. Therefore there will not be success in this regard until after this November, or perhaps even, until 2013 (assuming there are more Republican, or more generally, pro-life victories).

The pro-life movement—given the current political reality—has a lot of work to do in order to stop the abortion juggernaut and its financing machine. The costs, on this issue, are too great to tolerate more pro-life compromises with timid politicians, cynical political pragmatists, inaction, and worst of all, ignorance of these issues among rank-and-file pro-life Americans.

3 Responses to No Public Funding of Abortion: Myth or Status Quo?

  1. […] the complete article: No Public Funding of Abortion: Myth or Status Quo? May 2nd, 2010 in bill gates | tags: bill […]

  2. Thanks for the detailed analysis of a complex topic.

  3. Learning says:

    Yes thank you for the analysis. I have been researching how politics works myself and have come a similar understanding. It is not enough to elect politicians and expect them to do what you want. The pressure is always for them to compromise and not expend political capital.

    Pro-lifers need to understand how this works and how to use it. Since most Americans oppose tax-payer funding of abortion, this is great issue for pro-lifers to get out there. Fence sitting politicians appeal to both pro-lifers and fiscal conservatives.

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