Why does Third Way oppose the Stupak amendment?
Third Way is a centrist Democratic group that's generally associated with calls for Democrats to compromise on divisive cultural issues, not aggressive efforts to reject compromises on divisive cultural issues. So their angry report on the Stupak compromise caught my eye. I called Rachel Laser, one of the report's co-authors, to discuss it.
Your report says that the Stupak amendment violates the principle of “abortion neutrality.” What is “abortion neutrality?”
An approach that doesn’t change the legality, availability, federal role or cost of abortion.
How does the Stupak amendment fail?
It changes the federal role, for a start. It goes beyond the Hyde amendment, which says that federal funds can’t be used for abortion. It effectively causes there to be no abortion coverage in the exchange, which bans you from using private premiums, which is unprecedented.
It also challenges long-standing policies regarding the segregation of funds. Even religious organizations are expected to be reliable in separating federal funds they receive from religious practice and proselytizing. The community service block grant says that religious organizations have to segregate those funds in a separate account from non-federal funds. If you apply the logic of the Stupak amendment, this system fails.
In fact, the logic of the Stupak-Pitts amendment not only rejects the segregation scheme, but also the scheme whereby federal dollars are consistently used to subsidize insurance through the employer tax exclusion, the subsidy for health savings accounts, and flexible spending account. Those programs cover abortions.
The big worry I’m hearing is that as the exchanges expand, we’ll end up with a market in which the norm is that insurance products don’t cover abortion, as opposed to the more limited situation in which they just don’t cover abortion for subsidized individuals.
The exchange is designed to expand every year. And even the people who would be in the exchange who won’t be receiving a federal subsidy won’t be able to use their private premiums to buy a plan with abortion coverage because no such plans will exist. It won’t be profitable for insurers to offer that plan if 80 percent of their potential clients can’t purchase it.
But then you say, what about supplemental coverage? Well, no one plans to have an unintended pregnancy, by definition. And proof to this is the fact that in the five states where abortion coverage is banned in insurance plans except through threes riders, there are very few cases of those supplemental plans being a force in the market.
What about the Ellsworth compromise?
The Ellsworth compromise leans towards the pro-life direction but maintains neutrality. When you look for common ground, you have to recognize each side’s piece of the truth. On the pro-choice side, the piece of the truth is that segregation of funds can work. We’ve done it in religious organizations and Medicaid. The piece of the truth on the pro-life side is that the new program rightly makes pro-life people nervous, it’s close to the line.
The reason Ellsworth is a good compromise is it maintains the segregation of funds but bolsters protections that support the pro-life perspective. It has a non-discrimination clause for the commissioner. It bars not only affordability subsidies, but all federal dollars, including those coming from other programs. It embraces all federal conscience laws, includes an explicit statement saying there’s no preemption of state regulations, and there’s a final piece that Ellsworth adds which says the public plan has to hire private contractors to segregate the funds, pay the abortion claims, and do the actual work, so the federal government never touches abortion.
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