In a Wednesday (March 21) news conference on Capitol Hill, members of Congress and leaders of pro-life organizations decried the latest rule regarding the 2010 health care law, dubbed by critics as Obamacare. Since the rule's March 12 release, pro-lifers have pointed to two particularly objectionable aspects in a document that is more than 640 pages in length:
-- Health insurance plans in state exchanges are prohibited from specifically publicizing the fact they provide abortion coverage. They can disclose such coverage "only as part of the summary of benefits and coverage explanation, at the time of enrollment."
-- Every person enrolled in an insurance plan that covers abortion must pay a separate, monthly fee of at least $1 as an "abortion surcharge."
"So there will be millions, and perhaps tens of millions, of pro-life Americans who won't have a clue that abortion coverage is in their package until the day they sign on the bottom line," Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., said at the March 21 news conference.
The "surcharge" and secrecy clause in the new rule are only the latest to be confirmed in a series of provisions protested by pro-life advocates and objectors to government funding of abortion.
Pro-lifers have decried the fact the law will permit federally subsidized abortions. Religious liberty advocates have joined pro-lifers in also objecting to a January rule -- like the latest one, also from the Department of Health and Human Services -- that requires all health plans to cover contraceptives and sterilizations as preventive services without cost to employees. The contraceptives, as designated by the federal government, include some drugs that can cause abortions of tiny embryos. That rule has a religious exemption critics find woefully insufficient.
The "surcharge" and secrecy clause are "really a sideshow," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), at the news conference.
"It is a diversion from what's going on in the main tent, which is the federal subsidies," he told reporters. "We're talking about a massive new program, so-called tax credits. This is money coming straight out of the federal treasury which is going to subsidize the purchase of these plans for tens of millions of Americans."
The cost to the federal government could be $80 billion a year, Johnson said.
Smith said, "Now, under Obamacare, taxpayer subsidies in the form of what's called refundable, advanceable credits paid directly to the insurance company -- that is to say, taxpayer funds -- will subsidize insurance plans offered on the exchange that include abortion on demand -- even late-term abortion."
There are no restrictions on the reasons for abortions or how late they may be performed under the regulation, according to NRLC.
Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, told reporters, "s we predicted at the time that Obamacare was passed, the state exchanges do cover abortion and will force many Americans to pay for abortion regardless of their own personal, deeply held beliefs. That's not American. That's not the country that we live in. Many Americans will be compelled by law into an insurance plan that covers abortion."
Fifteen states have enacted laws barring abortion coverage in health plans that are part of the exchanges, but those "opt-out" measures fall short of fully protecting pro-life citizens, according to NRLC.
"A state legislature may forbid coverage of abortion in the exchange-participating health plans in that state -- but under ObamaCare, the taxpayers who live in that state may not 'opt out' of subsidizing the abortion coverage for other Americans, perhaps numbering tens of millions, who live in other states that do not enact opt-out laws," NRLC reported in a March 16 analysis.
In addition, the health-care law also empowers the Office of Personnel Management to offer "multi-state" health plans that could permit federal health plans that cover abortion, according to NRLC.
In the last 15 months, the House of Representatives has passed three bills that would repeal the health-care law or bar funding for abortion under the law. In each case, Obama has threatened a veto, and the Senate has either defeated or refused to vote on the proposals.
It appears repeal of the health-care law or reversal of its abortion-funding provisions will require the election of a Senate and a president supportive of such changes -- or action by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court will hear oral arguments March 26-28 on the constitutionality of the health-care law.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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