With Congress preparing for a long-awaited vote on a healthcare reform bill Sunday, some Democrats are calling the concerns of U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Price Hill) about abortion-related wording misplaced and just plain wrong.
Driehaus, a Roman Catholic, has told various media outlets that he’s leaning toward a “no” vote on the bill because it doesn’t expressly prohibit the use of federal money to pay for elective abortions.
An expert on health law who has analyzed both the House and Senate versions of the bill says Driehaus’ fears are unfounded.
Timothy S. Jost, a professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law, is co-author of Health Law, a casebook used in law schools nationwide. He told Faith In Public Life, a Web site founded by progressive faith leaders of various religions, that federal restrictions on abortion would remain essentially the same as before if the bill is approved.
“As we head into the final days of the healthcare reform debate, abortion has emerged as a central issue,” Jost wrote. “It was always the intention of those in Congress who drafted the health care reform legislation that the law concerning abortion would simply be left as it has been, which is that federal funding cannot be used for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or physical life endangerment of the mother.
“It has become clear that the Senate bill must be the platform for healthcare reform going forward. Because the abortion provisions of the Senate bill cannot be changed through reconciliation (because they do not affect the revenues or outlays of the federal government), it is very important to understand how the Senate bill addresses abortion and how it compares with the House bill. A number of claims have been made in recent days about the Senate health care reform bill which are not accurate.”
According to Jost, there are significant differences between the House and Senate bill, but the provisions governing abortion (Sec. 1303 of the Senate bill, pp. 2069-2078) are not among them. Both bills prohibit federal funding of abortions.
• The Senate bill, like the House bill, prohibits the use of premium affordability tax credits or cost-sharing reduction payments to pay for abortions that are not covered by Medicaid (i.e. abortions in cases of rape and incest or in cases of physical threat to the life of the mother).
• The Senate bill, like the House bill, prohibits qualified health plans from discriminating against providers or facilities because of their unwillingness to provide to pay, provide coverage, or refer for abortion. The Senate bill also requires the Office of Personnel Management to assure that at least one of the multi-state plans does not cover non-federally-covered abortions.
• The Senate bill, like the House bill, explicitly does not preempt any state laws regulating abortion.
For more of Jost’s analysis, click here.
Also, to underscore the analysis, staunch pro-life supporters – including Joel Hunter, a former Christian Coalition chair -- have written a letter to Congress in support of healthcare reform.
The letter begins, “As Christians committed to a consistent ethic of life, and deeply concerned with the health and well-being of all people, we want to see healthcare reform enacted. Our nation has a rare and historic opportunity to expand coverage to tens of millions of people, make coverage more affordable for all families, and crack down on many of the most harmful practices of the health insurance industry.”
It continues, “Reforming our healthcare system is necessarily complex, and the provisions related to abortion, or any other issue, require careful examination of the facts as they exist in the legislative language. We believe that the provisions … provide extensive evidence that longstanding restrictions on federal funding of abortion have been maintained. Furthermore, this bill provides new and important supports for vulnerable pregnant women.”
So, if prominent pro-life advocates have no problem with the bill, why is Driehaus waffling on his support? After all, he voted to support the House version of the bill in November.
There are two reasonable explanations.
The first is that Driehaus believes a “no” vote will garner him more support among the predominantly conservative, Catholic West Side neighborhoods in his district in November’s election. Let’s face some facts – the voters Driehaus are trying to woo likely will never vote for him over his challenger, Republican Steve Chabot.
Driehaus’ 2008 victory was driven by large African-American turnout in the presidential election, and polls show the predominantly black neighborhoods in his district want the healthcare reform bill to pass.
The second potential reason is that Driehaus knows that by waffling until the last minute he will garner extensive media coverage. With his poll numbers sagging, perhaps Driehaus believes the extra attention will paint him as a “man of conscience” – even if he ultimately votes “yes” – and lure undecided voters.
Regardless, the bottom line is that Driehaus appears to be turning his back on the voters who got him elected and is trying to play to conservative Catholic voters, who won't likely vote for him anyways.