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Abortion foes aren't buying Obama's assurances

They continue to campaign against healthcare reform, contending that federal money will go toward abortions if the president has his way.

September 11, 2009|Robin Abcarian

President Obama, a supporter of reproductive rights, forcefully reiterated in his speech to Congress this week that his healthcare plan would not lead to government funding of abortion.

The trouble is, abortion foes don't believe him. They are working hard to persuade Americans that Obama is wrong -- and have even created ads that evoke "Harry and Louise," the fictional couple that helped tank the Clinton-era attempt at healthcare reform:

"They won't pay for my surgery," says an elderly man sitting at a kitchen table. "What are we going to do?"

"But honey, you can't live this way," says his wife, patting his arm.

"And to think that Planned Parenthood is included in the government-run health plan, and spending tax dollars on abortions," he replies. "They won't pay for my surgery, but we're forced to pay for abortions."

The ad, created by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group, ran for two weeks in August in five states (California not among them). The ad has been criticized by people on both sides of the healthcare debate as a simplistic and inflammatory depiction of the reform measures Congress is considering.

But the criticism may be beside the point.

What the ad does is neatly summarize what foes of abortion contend: No matter what the president has said, if he gets the bill he wants, taxpayer dollars will end up paying for abortions.

The next few weeks, abortion foes believe, will be crucial.

"It was easy in past election cycles for [antiabortion] people to sit back and think that everything would be taken care of," said Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports antiabortion female candidates. "There was a [Republican] president in the White House who could veto, and there was never a threat of an override. Now we are looking at a complete undoing."

Her group is airing a television ad in Nevada, home state of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, attacking the Democrat for "pushing a massive government-run healthcare system requiring taxpayer funding for abortions." The ad is part of a $2-million campaign, Votes Have Consequences, targeting a dozen vulnerable senators and representatives.

The logic goes like this: Most of the proposals for expanding coverage include a provision for people who can't afford private health insurance. They could receive federal subsidies to help them buy insurance. Abortion foes say that if a private plan offers abortion coverage and a federal subsidy is used to purchase it, this would mean taxpayers are subsidizing abortion.

Abortion rights supporters say that scenario twists the facts.

"The president made clear that no federal funding would be used for abortion," said Laurie Rubiner, vice president for public policy and advocacy of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "It's time to stop spreading misinformation and creating confusion and distractions to undermine healthcare reform."

Abortion rights supporters say that a proposal by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara), which the House Energy and Commerce Committee recently passed narrowly, would ensure that no federal dollars pay for abortions.

Capps' amendment seeks to distinguish between public and private money. Under any insurance purchased with federal help, individuals would pay the portion of premiums used for abortion services. Federal money, in theory, would not pay for the procedure.

How? Separate accounts would be created to keep federal dollars from co-mingling with an individual's contributions. So, in essence, federal dollars would not support abortions, even if they pay for other health coverage.

Abortion foes call this "an accounting scheme" and say that the amendment does not give them the guarantees they seek.

"This is something we are very familiar with -- the phony compromise," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.

Stop the Abortion Mandate, a coalition of about 70 conservative political and religious groups, has alerted its grass roots -- with videos, e-mails, robocalls and TV ads. In July, 20 of their leaders held a conference call, which they said attracted more than 36,000 listeners.

"Within 72 hours after that call, we know of 100,000 e-mails and calls to Congress," said David Bereit, national director of the antiabortion group 40 Days for Life, who organized the coalition with Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life.

A counter-event took place in August, when a coalition of about 30 liberal religious groups organized a conference call under the banner 40 Days for Health Reform.

During that call, White House domestic policy advisor Melody Barnes told an estimated 140,000 listeners that "federal funds will not be used for abortion coverage." Obama spoke as well, reiterating Barnes' points and accusing those who say otherwise of "bearing false witness."

Abortion foes were not persuaded.

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