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Don't allow federal funds for abortion

By Orrin Hatch, Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Orrin Hatch: The Senate health care bill ultimately would result in federal funding for abortions
  • Hatch: Most Americans don't want insurance companies to get federal funds for abortions
  • Hatch: Unlike Hyde Amendment, Senate bill allows government programs to offer abortions
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Editor's note: Sen. Orrin Hatch, a senior Republican legislator from Utah, is a member of the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Washington (CNN) -- The Democratic health care proposal being debated in the Senate not only contains large new taxes, enormous government expansion and huge spending, but I'm convinced it also seeks to allow federal funding for abortion -- something 61 percent of Americans do not support, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey.

Recently, the House of Representatives passed a health care reform bill containing language that would safeguard the rights of the unborn, and also prevent medical providers from being coerced into performing procedures that violate their conscience.

However, the health care reform bill introduced by Harry Reid, D-Nevada, in the Senate does not contain similar protections. To be clear, the language in the Reid bill on abortion is significantly weaker than that of the bill that passed in the House last month.

I have major concerns about how effective the weak language in the Reid bill will be. The one thing we know is that coverage of elective abortions in the government-operated health plan (or the public option) would be decided by the secretary of Health and Human Services. I am certain that federal subsidies would ultimately pay for insurance coverage used to cover elective abortions.

Not only have the bill's supporters displayed sheer disregard for what a majority of Americans want, they have also helped the president break a pledge he made to the American people.

In the speech to a joint session of Congress on September 9, President Obama said: "And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up -- under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place." He has also stated that it is his goal to lower the incidence of abortion.

Yet this is not what the Democratic-led Senate has done with this bill. Further evidence that the arrogance of power being displayed by Democrats in Washington means you can say one thing and do another.

Do the president and the members of his party who control the U.S. Senate, and who wrote this bill behind closed doors, really think federal funding for abortions is health care reform?

I have been concerned about the direction this issue might take during debate for some time. During Senate Finance Committee consideration of the health reform legislation, I offered two important pro-life amendments.

The first strictly prohibited federal funds paying for elective abortions, as the Hyde amendment does under federal law.

The second amendment provided conscience protection for providers opposed to abortion. That is, it would have prohibited federal agencies, programs, and state and local government and health plans receiving health reform bill funding from discriminating against medical providers that don't perform or pay for abortions. This language was included in the House-passed bill.

Both of my amendments were defeated. I then joined with Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, to offer an amendment similar to the House-passed Stupak amendment, with stronger restrictions preventing the use of federal funds for abortion, during full Senate consideration. It was also defeated.

Our opponents will tell us that the abortion funding language in the Senate bill is essentially the Hyde language that is included in the annual Labor-HHS Appropriations Bill. That is not true.

The Hyde amendment specifically removes elective abortions from government programs, but the Senate bill allows elective abortions to be offered under two huge government initiatives -- the insurance marketplace and the public option.

The Democratic bill tries to explain this nonsensical scheme by calling for the segregation of federal dollars from abortion coverage in plans that are bought using federal subsidies. Health plans offering abortion would be prohibited from using federal subsidies for the procedure, instead using money from premiums paid by subscribers.

This "segregation" of funds actually violates the intent of the Hyde amendment, which prevents funding of abortion not only by federal funds but also by state matching funds, within the same plan.

It is important to note that today the Medicaid program receives both federal and state dollars -- yet states that do provide elective abortions for Medicaid beneficiaries must do so from a completely different account that uses state-only dollars.

To be clear, the Senate health care reform bill would require at least one health plan to offer elective abortions in each state health insurance exchange. Today, no federal health program requires the coverage of elective abortions. The Democratic bill is a clear departure from current law.

We must remember that when the Hyde amendment was enacted in 1976, the majority of our nation's citizens disagreed with being forced to pay for abortion. That has not changed. In poll after poll, Americans have indicated they do not want public money to be used for abortions. So my question to the Democratic-led Senate leadership is this: When is this Congress going to start listening to the American people?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sen. Orrin Hatch.