By Kathleen Gilbert
WASHINGTON, D.C., July 23, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The non-partisan fact-checking site FactCheck.org has vindicated the National Right to Life Committee's (NRLC) claim that federal monies were on the brink of funding abortions in state high-risk insurance pools before the matter was exposed by NRLC, prompting the Obama administration to retroactively enforce Hyde-amendment restrictions.
The controversy erupted a week and a half ago, when NRLC revealed that abortions would be funded under a $160 million Pennsylvania program, a fact that contradicted the repeated assurances of President Obama and pro-life Democrats that abortions would not be funded under the federal health care law. The pro-life organization also unearthed similar funding problems in New Mexico and Maryland.
The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) responded to the concerns raised by NRLC in a statement, suggesting that an abortion funding ban for the high risk pools was already implied in the health reform law. However, Planned Parenthood and NARAL both expressed shock at the HHS’s "clarification" that only abortions in cases of rape, incest, and threat to the mother's life would be federally subsidized under the high-risk plans; both groups condemned such a funding ban as a clear change in the law.
Now Brooks Jackson of FactCheck.org has agreed with both NRLC and the pro-abortion groups that nothing in the law would have prevented abortions from being funded under the high-risk pools.
He wrote that the NRLC was correct to point out that the Pennsylvania plan was flawed because, while it appeared to exclude "elective abortions" from federally-subsidized coverage, it failed to define the term "elective abortions," rendering the statement meaningless.
LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) had twice asked Pennsylvania state insurance officials to clarify the meaning of "elective abortion," but a spokesperson would not answer the question, but simply referred LSN to the HHS statement.
"The term 'elective' isn’t defined, and so isn’t very meaningful," wrote Jackson. "So — when all the verbal smoke is cleared away — the solicitation states that the program 'will' cover 'only' abortions that are legal. That doesn’t leave out much."
Shortly after the HHS announced that it would apply Hyde restrictions to the high risk pools after all, NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson said that, “It is certainly clear that [HHS officials] were not imposing any abortion restrictions until now, until it became a matter of controversy.
“[HHS officials] were not applying any kind of guidance that would keep states from submitting such a plan [approving abortion coverage], and they weren’t denying approval when a state did submit such a plan,” he said.
Jackson wrote that the Pennsylvania Insurance Department’s spokeswoman Melissa Fox responded to further questions from Factcheck.org by justifying the proposal's vague language, saying that the "aggressive timeframe to submit proposals" required that the writers of the proposal “insert ‘placeholder’ language absent specific guidance from the federal government on the benefit package.”
"So the story now is that in the haste to meet a deadline, 'placeholder' language was inserted, to be adjusted later," Jackson concluded. "But whatever Pennsylvania officials intended, the stated federal policy is now clear: No abortions will be covered by the temporary risk pools except for those in cases of rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother."
The FactCheck.org article does not address in depth the New Mexico plan, whose Federal High Risk Pool initially listed “Routine Maternity/Elective Termination of Pregnancy” as a covered benefit under the section “Hospital/Facility Services.” When the Associated Press contacted the agency about that plan, a spokesperson initially claimed the coverage would remain unchanged, before calling the AP back to say that officials had begun "correcting the package so it will not have elective abortion coverage."
NRLC also discovered earlier this week that a third high-risk pool proposal in Maryland had not applied Hyde restrictions on abortion funding, and that no guidelines were given by the HHS to do so.
See related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:
Maryland Plan Indicates HHS Approved High Risk Pools With No Abortion Requirements
HHS Moves to Block Abortion Funding in High-Risk Pools Following Controversy
NARAL Enraged, USCCB Cautiously Pleased with HHS 'Clarification' on High-Risk Pool Abortion Funding