“Myth: Obamacare requires American taxpayers to fund abortion.”
—The Democratic National Committee, Nov. 25, 2013 on its “Your Republican Uncle” website
The DNC’s claim helps remind us that complex issues are easily oversimplified. The DNC simplifies this claim in a misleading way.
We continue our series on the Democratic National Committee’s “Your Republican Uncle” website with the DNC’s claim it is a “myth” that Obamacare requires American taxpayers to fund abortion.
Here’s how the website makes its case:
Nope. The Affordable Care Act does not provide taxpayer funding for abortion.
Just below that, the site provides a URL linking to a source. As is so often the case with the “Your Republican Uncle” website, the supporting link leads to the White House website. There we find this:
Myth de-bunkend [sic]
Health insurance reform will NOT use your tax dollars to fund abortions.
The health insurance reform legislation maintains the status quo of no federal funding for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman is endangered. A federal judge recently wrote “the express language of the [Affordable Care Act] does not provide for taxpayer funded abortion. That is a fact and it is clear on its face.”
Analyzing the Rhetoric
It’s clear from the outset that the Democratic National Committee used imprecise language in its appeal. Taxpayers fund abortion. They fund abortion in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. But this is a case where charitable interpretation is proper. The issue is the degree to which the ACA expands on abortion funding.
“the express language of the PPACA does not provide for taxpayer funded abortion”
The White House webpage the DNC cites in support of its abortion claim includes only one evidential support, the opinion of a federal judge that the language of the ACA does not expressly provide for taxpayer funding of abortion. But the judge was ruling on a defamation case. His statement did not address whether the ACA would implicitly allow for taxpayer funding of abortions. Judge Timothy S. Black made that clear:
It is irrelevant whether an assertion that the PPACA “allows for taxpayer funded abortion” could have been proven to be true (Doc. 34, Ex. 2 at ¶ 18), because the [Susan B. Anthony List] made the far different statement that the PPACA “includes taxpayer funding of abortion.” (Doc. 7, Ex. 1 at 7). This statement has a clear and definite meaning — that funding is in this law.
Judge Black’s statement does not support the DNC’s assertion that the ACA does not make American taxpayers fund abortion. Judge Black did say the law does not explicitly fund abortion. But if the law does not explicitly fund abortion, then how is it supposed to fund abortion?
The United States Council of Catholic Bishops finds two routes by which federal funds may pay for elective abortion. The first is a direct route:
The combination of (a) the statutory mandate that [Community Health Centers] currently have to provide comprehensive health services, and (b) the absence of any Hyde limitation on the funds that PPACA appropriates for CHCs, means that (c) courts are highly likely to read PPACA to require the funding of abortions at CHCs in the absence of a statutory correction.
The USCCB goes on to point out that purchasing a plan under the ACA covering elective abortions obligates the buyer to pay a separate premium covering elective abortion. That’s regardless of the purchaser’s conscientious objections. Insurance companies are supposed to pay for covered elective abortion using funds from that second premium charge.
These are plausible means by which the ACA might provide abortion funding. Next we’ll look at how other fact checkers address these concerns.
PolitiFact Florida dismissed the notion that taxpayers fund abortion if the abortion premium is kept separate from funds used for other purposes:
It’s not fair to say that taxpayers are paying for elective abortions. Any abortions would be paid through a separate account funded entirely through a portion of premiums paid by people who select a plan that covers abortion services, not from tax dollars. That’s an important difference. Everyone who buys into a plan that covers abortion would have to pay into that abortion fund, even men. And for those with moral objections to paying a portion of their premiums for abortion services, the federal law requires that every region offer at least one alternative health plan that does not cover abortion.
While PolitiFact Florida declares it unfair to say taxpayers fund abortion in these two cases, we note that it is likewise unfair to deny that elective abortion receives a subsidy through the effects of the law. One might give $10 a friend who smokes, stipulating it is for food, but what’s the difference if the recipient buys cigarettes with the $10 in his left pocket as opposed to the $10 in his right one? If the friend spends $10 on cigarettes restriction on spending the $10 was effectively symbolic. And aren’t persons opposed to abortion given second-class status if they can choose only one plan that doesn’t cover elective abortion? That aspect of the law pressures abortion opponents to fund abortion.
PolitiFact Florida dismisses the concerns of abortion opponents so quickly we think it’s wrong to call it addressing the issue.
PolitiFact Georgia looked at an abortion-related claim from a book by former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel.
Obama did say and signed an executive order that committed to no federal funding for abortion in the health care law. Handel’s claim that the law will provide coverage for abortions could have been made more precisely. States can bar all plans participating in the state exchanges from covering abortions. That’s not mentioned in Handel’s book.
Basically, abortions can be performed under the health care law, depending on which state you reside in. Because that bit of detail was not mentioned, we rate Handel’s entire claim Mostly True.
PolitiFact Georgia seems to disagree with PolitiFact Florida, though neither provides enough detail in its fact check to allow us to confidently pinpoint the disagreement.
Factcheck.org more thoroughly addressed the issue of whether the ACA would fund abortion when it published a series of short takes on one of the vice presidential debates between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan (bold emphasis added):
Ryan claimed that the ACA contains “taxpayer funding” of abortion. In fact the law provides no direct funding of abortion except in cases of rape or incest or to save the mother’s life. And it’s a matter of interpretation whether subsidized private insurance would amount to indirect federal support for abortion.
Another fact check by Factcheck.org showed how regulations intended to put the ACA into effect could potentially sidestep the bills restrictions on abortion funding. Rules written for low-risk pools would have permitted federal funding of elective abortion until the Obama administration acted in response to public objections.
The ACA, especially considering the added HHS regulations, is very complex. As Judge Black noted in the Susan B. Anthony List defamation case, the law is not explicitly worded to provide abortion funding. But the law’s complexity creates loopholes that may allow federal funding of elective abortion. Subsidizing insurance arguably subsidizes elective abortion, and other parts of the law may lead opponents of abortion to unwittingly fund it through their insurance coverage.
“Myth: Obamacare requires American taxpayers to fund abortion.”
If we take the DNC to mean that the health care reform law itself does not literally require American taxpayers to fund elective abortion, we can interpret the statement as true. Doing so results in a fallacy of ambiguity, encouraging the light dismissal of some reasonable objections from pro-lifers.
The ACA leaves enough loopholes for later state and federal regulations to potentially fund elective abortion under the law. On top of that, the ACA creates conditions that indirectly subsidize elective abortion and pressure or deceive abortion opponents into funding it.
While investigating this issue, we found plausible arguments that the ACA may in some ways lead to decreased access to abortion. Whether true or not, this doesn’t contradict our other findings.
It’s also worth pointing out that states have the option of using tax revenue to fund abortion.
Update Nov. 16, 2014
Reader R. DiGenova points out a Government Accountability Office report relevant to our fact check. The GAO report surveyed insurance providers and found that the responding companies apparently do not make a common practice of keeping separate accounting for abortion coverage:
Fifteen issuers and the Washington Health Benefit Exchange—which bills enrollees onbehalf of issuers offering QHPs in the state-based exchange, including for 2 of the 18 issuers from which we obtained information—did not itemize the premium amount associated with non-excepted abortion services coverage on enrollees’ bills nor indicate that they send a separate bill for that premium amount. Officials from the remaining issuer from which we obtained information told us that their bills indicate that there is a $1 charge “for coverage of services for which member subsidies may not be used.”
Perhaps the insurers did not see the point of keeping the accounting separate.
This information does not change our rating, though it does point up an abortion funding mechanism we did not anticipate: non-enforcement of or noncompliance with the relevant law.
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