The disjointed debate over ‘funding’ abortion

THE DISJOINTED DEBATE OVER ‘FUNDING’ ABORTION…. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) is part of a House Democratic contingent balking at health care reform, not because of the public option, and not because of cost curves or reimbursement rates. Stupak’s concern, which he’s said can derail the entire health care reform effort, is about public funding of abortion.

Now, conservatives have argued for quite a while that reform would finance abortion, and reform advocates have consistently pushed back, rejecting the claim. Stupak, a Democrat who opposes abortion rights, is siding with the right on the issue.

Time‘s Amy Sullivan had an item yesterday, unrelated to Stupak’s specific argument, which addressed the larger issue nicely.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the fungibility argument that many pro-life groups and politicians have employed to oppose health reform. The problem, they say, is that if any insurance plan that covers abortion is allowed to participate in a public exchange, then premiums paid to that plan in the form of taxpayer-funded subsidies help support that abortion coverage even if individual abortion procedures are paid for out of a separate pool of privately-paid premium dollars. You can debate about whether it makes sense to use this strict standard, but that’s the argument.

But are those pro-life organizations holding themselves to the same strict standard? As it happens, Focus on the Family provides its employees health insurance through Principal, an insurance company that covers “abortion services.” A Focus spokeswoman confirmed the fact that the organization pays premiums to Principal, but declined to comment on whether that amounts to an indirect funding of abortion.

Even if the specific plan Focus uses for its employees doesn’t include abortion coverage — and I’m assuming it doesn’t — the organization and its employees still pay premiums to a company that funds abortions. If health reform proposals have a fungibility problem, then Focus does as well. And if they don’t think they do have a fungibility problem, then it would be interesting to hear why they think the set-up proposed in health reform legislation is so untenable.

The same applies to Stupak, who seems to agree with Focus on the Family’s argument.