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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

PolitiFact adopts odd premises to dispute one NRLC statement about the abortion-related effects of the Baucus health care bill, while approving of another NRLC statement

WASHINGTON (September 22, 2009) -- On September 21, 2009, PolitiFact released two "Truth-O-Meter" ratings on two statements made by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) about the new health care restructuring bill, the "America's Healthy Future Act," proposed by Senator Max Baucus (D-Mt.). Both statements appeared in the same September 16 NRLC press release. This is the NRLC statement that PolitiFact rated as "true":
The Baucus bill "contains provisions that would send massive federal subsidies directly to both private insurance plans and government-chartered cooperatives that pay for elective abortion."

And this is the NRLC statement that PolitiFact rated as "false":
"Under the Baucus bill...federal funds would subsidize coverage of elective abortions."

PolitiFact reached these seemingly contradictory conclusions by buying into the fiction that the federal government can use federal funds to help purchase private health insurance plans that cover elective abortions, and yet not "subsidize coverage of elective abortions." This is the kind of argument that most journalists and policymakers would not accept for one minute if it was advanced by a private entity that wished to receive a federal subsidy while continuing to engage in activities that are contrary to federal public policy with respect to, for example, race discrimination (e.g., the federal tax exemption at stake in the famous Bob Jones University case) or sex discrimination (e.g., Grove City College, in another famous case in which the federal subsidy consisted of individual students who had received Pell grants).

Likewise, the Hyde Amendment and similar laws embody a policy view that abortion is a bad thing, to be discouraged. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that no constitutional principle is violated when the government advances "a value judgment favoring childbirth over abortion, and . . . implement[ing] that judgment by the allocation of public funds" (Maher v. Roe), and "by means of unequal subsidization of abortion and other medical services, encourages alternative activity deemed in the public interest" (Harris v. McRae, upholding the Hyde Amendment).

We believe that when the federal government pays for insurance, the federal government pays for what the insurance pays for. Therefore, since the Baucus bill would spend federal funds to pay part of the premium cost of private plans that cover elective abortion, the federal government would indeed be subsidizing "coverage of elective abortions," regardless of how the insurer keeps his books.

The various PolitiFact articles about the abortion-related controversies in the health care bills are consolidated on one page here. If you read them all you may get vertigo, because PolitiFact's understanding of these matters is sophisticated on some points, but shallow and muddled on others. Even now, it appears that they have not completely grasped that under the House bill (H.R. 3200), as amended by the Capps Amendment, the "public plan" would be explicitly authorized to cover elective abortions, and that the funds used to pay for the abortions would be legally and in every ordinary use of the term "federal funds" -- thus, the "public plan" would be engaged in direct federal funding of abortion on demand.

In other words, the House bill explicitly authorizes direct federal funding of elective abortion, through the public plan, and this problem is entirely separate and distinct from the problems that arise from the premium-subsidy program. Since PolitiFact still doesn't fully recognize that, it is not too surprising that they are confused about the more complicated Baucus arrangement.

Part of PolitiFact's ongoing confusion may be the product of a faulty and arbitrary premise, found in this statement in the next-to-last paragraph in this article: ". . . we think the court of common sense says that if someone claims abortion would be subsidized with federal funds, it suggests more federal tax dollars would pour into plans that cover abortion."

This "more federal tax dollars" test is misconceived and indeed untenable. Before the Hyde Amendment took effect in 1977, the federal Medicaid program was paying for 300,000 elective abortions a year, but under this arbitrary PolitiFact definition, the federal Medicaid program never actually "subsidized abortion with federal funds"! That's because the federal Medicaid program saved money every time it paid for an abortion, because it is much cheaper to kill an unborn child than to pay for prenatal care and childbirth.

According to a 2007 article, the average cost of prenatal care and childbirth for a Medicaid client is $6,719. The average cost of a first-trimester abortion is under $500. The figures were lower in earlier decades, but the ratio was roughly the same. So when the federal Medicaid program paid for an abortion, it saved Medicaid money. Still, it requires the use of very tortured logic and a contrived terminology to deny that the federal Medicaid program was subsidizing abortion prior to the enactment of the Hyde Amendment.

We hope that the PolitiFact editors will reconsider the practice of filtering our discourse through their fallacious assumptions about what they think the pro-life side is trying to achieve or what they think we are implying, rather than looking at what we actually say and at the meaning of words like "subsidize" and "federal funds" as they appear in standard reference sources, unrelated to the current debate over abortion policy. Contrary to the perhaps unconscious assumption that the PolitiFact reporters and editors seem to be imposing on this debate, the Hyde Amendment and similar pro-life amendments were not advanced to save "tax dollars." They were advanced to save lives.

When we now talk about the provisions of the various health care bills, using definitions of "subsidy" and "federal funds" that have long been accepted with respect to innumerable government programs, we are not engaged in falsehood. The skeptical scrutiny ought to fall on those who, in order to advance their goal of having the government begin subsidizing abortion-covering plans, want to impose novel and contrived definitions of what constitutes a "subsidy" and what constitutes "federal funds."

When the government helps pay for insurance, the government subsidizes coverage of whatever the insurance covers. When the federal government gives money to a health insurer to help pay for a plan that covers elective abortion, it is indeed a subsidy of elective abortion coverage, in the ordinary English meaning of the term "subsidy," even if the cost to the government is the same as the subsidy that would be paid for some other plan that does not cover abortion.

Douglas Johnson
Legislative Director
National Right to Life Committee
512-10th Street, Northwest
Washington, D.C. 20004

To obtain key documents about the abortion mandates and abortion subsidies in the current health care bills:

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