Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Is Bart Stupak wrong?

I confess that I'm one of those Americans who really wants to understand health care reform, but every time I see a sustained adult discussion of it on a show like Charlie Rose, my eyes begin to glaze over and I switch over to watch people say dumb things on Jay Leno so that I can feel smart again.  Not surprisingly, then, I don't know whether the Senate health care bill ends up funding abortions or not.  Timothy Noah says it doesn't:

What really rankles Stupak (and the bishops) isn't that the Senate bill commits taxpayer dollars to funding abortion. Rather, it's that the Senate bill commits taxpayer dollars to people who buy private insurance policies that happen to cover abortion at nominal cost to the purchaser (even the poorest of the poor can spare $1 a month) and no cost at all to the insurer. Stupak and the bishops don't have a beef with government spending. They have a beef with market economics.

Is he right?


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In either case, won't tax dollars be used to fund abortion whether directly or through subsidies to the poor?

Posted by: Michael Scaperlanda | Mar 5, 2010 2:20:58 PM

Don't taxpayer dollars already subsidize abortions if a welfare recipient chooses to spend the money that way?

Posted by: rob vischer | Mar 5, 2010 2:27:49 PM

If I understand Noah right, he's saying "The marginal cost of abortion coverage is low. Therefore the government funding of abortion here is a very small dollar amount per insurance policy. Therefore it is nominal. Therefore it does not exist." Am I misreading him?

Posted by: JAB | Mar 5, 2010 2:29:18 PM

My questions at this point, then, are two:

1. What are the real nuts-and-bolts differences under the current (Hyde) situation from what the Senate bill says?

2. What is the fate of the original Stupak admendment (or language like it) as Health Reform continues its way? I'm stuck on a mountain in Nevada these days and can't follow the daily play of events the way I could when I lived in Maryland and the Washington Post was my local rag.


Posted by: Bruce Cole | Mar 5, 2010 2:32:09 PM

1. As I understand it, no federal money currently goes to insurance plans that cover abortion. Under the Senate bill, they would. The money would be formally earmarked to not pay for abortions, but this is meaningless, since money's the most fungible possible good. Noah argues that providing abortion is cheaper for insurers than not providing for it (because they save on the costs of pregnancy and childbirth), so the federal money won't make any difference.

2. It sounds to me like Pelosi is likely to cave to Stupak. It's the only way they'll pass the bill, I think.

Posted by: JAB | Mar 5, 2010 2:42:40 PM

Thank you, JAB. Re no. 1, one part of me says things won't be much different, other part says, oh, yes, they will. That is why I'm thoroughly sympathetic to the original post. Re no. 2, I hope she does cave....But then, that goes back to point no. 1...I guess!


Posted by: Bruce Cole | Mar 5, 2010 3:05:44 PM

Since, economically speaking, lowering my tax by X if I buy something is the same as giving me X if I buy something, we already federally subsidize abortion coverage in private health insurance plans. Many plans cover abortion and most of these receive massive tax subsidies in our current employer-based system. Medicare advantage, which covers lots of people younger than 65, also allows private insurance plans that cover abortion services. The current Senate bill is actually stricter than either of these existing subsidies, yet many political and opinion leaders who condemn the Senate bill do not object, and in many cases actively defend, these other structures, even though they include abortion subsidies.

I actually think the Senate bill, while not as good as Stupak’s amendment in the House version, will reduce the number of private plans that cover abortion as the employer based system continues to unravel, more people move to the new exchanges, and the need to write a separate check each month for abortion coverage makes clear the difference between “abortion” and “healthcare.”

Of course, all this would be moot if even a single pro-life Senate Republican would have been willing to insist on Stupak language as the price of supporting what turns out to be a rather moderate effort to addresses the moral scandal of healthcare vulnerability and inequality in this country. But a truly consistent “seamless garment” approach that is pro-life, pro-poor, and pro-sick got no takers.

Posted by: DC | Mar 5, 2010 3:39:53 PM

What about the additional issue of the millions in funding (billions?) to community health centers, many of which do use their money, and will use the federal money, to supply abortions? As I understand it, the Hyde Amendment only covers appropriations to the Department of Health and Human Services. It is not a blanket prohibition on any federal funding for abortions.

Posted by: John O'Herron | Mar 5, 2010 8:47:40 PM

Re: the community health centers. Here is what NRLC's Doug Johnson says:
"The Senate bill, due to a last-minute amendment, provides $7 billion for the nation's 1,250 Community Health Centers, without any restriction whatever on the use of these federal funds to pay directly for abortion on demand. (These funds are entirely untouched by the "Hyde Amendment" that currently covers Medicaid.) Obama today proposed to increase that figure to $11 billion, but without adding a prohibition on the use of the funds for abortion. (The House-passed bill would provide $12 billion, but in the House bill the funds would be covered by the Stupak-Pitts Amendment.)"

I don't think Timothy Noah really understands all of what "rankles Stupak (and the bishops)." Stupak's language wouldn't survive reconciliation so I don't see him going through with it.

Posted by: John O'Herron | Mar 5, 2010 8:56:20 PM