As historic health care reform legislation heads to President Obama's desk for his signature, Southern Baptist leaders have continued to claim falsely that the reform will allow federal funding of abortion.
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden react in the White House as the House passes the health care reform bill. (Photo: Pete Souza, White House)
Numerous fact-checkers and pro-life leaders have explained that the legislation as passed will not provide federal funding for abortion, but Southern Baptists and other conservatives continue to repeat the claim.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, argued that the legislation "will result in government funding of elective abortion." He also claimed in a letter to congressional leaders that the legislation "explicitly authorizes federal funding of abortion." Similarly, the Baptist Press claimed that health care reform "could result in federal tax dollars being directly used for abortions."
Before any health care reform legislation was even written, some conservative pro-life groups were already claiming the yet-to-be-written legislation would allow federal funding of abortion. This talking point was consistently used to provoke opposition to health care reform. However, this argument has continued even after pro-life Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) wrote language that explicitly prevents new federal funding for abortion.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning independent fact-checker Politifact.com noted that one of the "10 facts about the actual health care legislation that every voter should know" is that federal funding for abortion will not be allowed for elective abortions but only for the exceptions already allowed by law.
ABC World News also investigated the issue and found that there can be no new federal funding for abortion with the health care reform.
Sister Carol Keehan, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association, endorsed the legislation. She noted that the pro-life CHA would only support health care reform that did not provide federal funding of abortion.
"CHA has a major concern on life issues," Keehan stated. "We said there could not be any federal funding for abortions and there had to be strong funding for maternity care, especially for vulnerable women. … There is a requirement that the insurance companies be audited annually to assure that the payment for abortion coverage fully covers the administrative and clinical costs, that the payment is held in a separate account from other premiums, and that there are no federal dollars used."
A group of nearly 60 Catholic sisters representing numerous Catholic organizations wrote a letter endorsing the health care legislation.
"And despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions," their letter noted. "It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments – 250 million – in support of pregnant women. This is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it."
The National Catholic Reporter, an independent Catholic newspaper, endorsed the legislation because it "is not 'pro-abortion,' and there is no, repeat no, federal funding of abortion in the bill."
Many other independent and pro-life groups have carefully studied the legislation and debunked the claims made by Land, the Baptist Press and other conservative pro-life groups.
Southern Baptist leaders have made other false statements concerning the issue of abortion in the health care reform legislation. For instance, the Baptist Press quoted a Planned Parenthood statement to argue that the legislation would allow federal funding of abortion.
"Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, said the bill would 'significantly increase access to reproductive health care,'" the Baptist Press claimed.
However, the "reproductive health care" provided for in the legislation is pre- and post-natal care, not abortion. What Planned Parenthood actually thinks about the pro-life provisions written by Sen. Nelson is that they "would be the most severe restriction on private health insurance coverage for abortion in 35 years." That sentence occurs just two paragraphs before the line the Baptist Press quoted.
Another area where false claims have been made concerns the additional funding of community health centers. The Baptist Press claimed that funding for community health centers would include those that perform abortions.
Politifact.com pointed out that the accusations about community health centers are inaccurate.
"Community health centers are clinics that provide primary and preventive health services primarily to low-income Americans and those who live in underserved rural areas," Politifact.com explained. "None of them provide abortion services."
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"[The centers] have never in their 45 years provided abortions," the piece added. "They did not even before the Hyde Amendment was enacted. They have not even when they got $500,000 from the economic stimulus to expand their services (essentially coming the same way as proposed through Senate bill). They have not even though federal funding limited by the Hyde Amendment comprises just 20 percent of their annual budget now (and they'll still be getting that appropriations money, with its strings)."
Additionally, the National Association of Community Health Centers released a statement declaring that none of the 1,250 federally qualified health centers "provide abortions to any of their patients, and we are not aware of any that have ever done so."
"Health centers do not plan to, nor are they seeking to, become providers of abortion," the statement added. "On the contrary, last year health centers provided prenatal, perinatal and post-natal/post-partum care to 1 of every 8 children born in the U.S."
None of the community health centers are operated by Planned Parenthood – even though some conservatives have wrongly declared that they are – and Planned Parenthood facilities could not meet the standards to be approved into the program.
One final claim Southern Baptist leaders have been making about abortion and the health care legislation is that it would increase abortion rates in the United States. This assertion is built on the false claim that the legislation funds elective abortions.
Land argued the health care reform legislation would result in "a 30 percent increase in abortions in America." Similarly, the Baptist Press claimed that the health care reform "would lead to a drastic expansion of abortion coverage." They also argued there was "'No question' health care bill would increase abortion rate."
A new article published in the New England Journal of Medicine examined the impact of Massachusetts' health care reform on the abortion rate. The legislation, which was signed by then-Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, served as a model for the U.S. Senate health care bill.
The piece noted that the overall abortion rate in Massachusetts dropped 1.5 percent following the enactment of the health care reform. Additionally, the abortion rate among teenagers dropped 7.4 percent. The article cited Land as an example of someone making the claim that abortion rates would increase if national health care reform was passed despite the reverse result in Massachusetts.
"Massachusetts is one of 17 states that provide full coverage for abortion under the state Medicaid program (MassHealth) for the poorest residents, and abortion is a covered service under all the Commonwealth Care plans that cover the next tier of income earners," the article explained. "Yet in this midsized, ethnically diverse state, full insurance coverage of abortion services for all lower-income residents did not result in an increase in the number of abortions performed."
With the notable exception of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, most of the Southern Baptist and other conservative critics raising the issue of abortion in health care are not only against federal funding of abortion but also health care reform without such funding. Thus, the claim of abortion funding has been used as an attempt to defeat legislation that Land and other Southern Baptists leaders were already against.
Whenever a pro-life leader supports the legislation, they are quickly attacked by Land and other conservatives for being a traitor and not really pro-life. Sen. Nelson was praised at first but then repeatedly denounced by Land for supporting the bill after crafting language on the issue of abortion.
Similarly, pro-life Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) was praised for months by Land and other conservatives. However, when Stupak voted for the legislation in response to Obama's planned executive order reiterating that the legislation does not allow for federal funding of abortion, conservatives quickly began denouncing Stupak.
Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic lobbying organization Network, noted her surprise that people have been reading the same legislation so differently.
As a pro-life supporter of health care reform, she said claims that the legislation would provide federal funding of abortion could exist because "some people could be motivated by a political loyalty that's outside of caring for the people who live at the margins of health care in society."
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.