WASHINGTON — For weeks, President Obama has tried to combat claims that his healthcare overhaul would mean tax dollars going toward abortions, calling the assertion a "myth."
Today, his argument may gain some strength: A group of black church leaders who oppose abortion is set to endorse the president's health plan.
The clergy -- led by Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr., a Los Angeles minister who heads the massive Church of God in Christ -- are scheduled to announce their support for the legislation at a news conference this morning. And they will offer a full embrace of the government-run insurance option that white evangelical leaders and many Republicans have said opens the door to taxpayer-funded abortions.
Legislation proposed by House Democrats would require public healthcare money to be segregated into separate accounts so that only private funds could be used for abortions. Conservatives call that an "accounting scheme."
The black leaders are expected to use careful language -- echoing Obama's abortion funding pledge while cautioning the White House against breaking its promise.
"In accord with our commitment to Christian teaching, we wholeheartedly affirm the president's position that medical costs related to the abortion of fetuses shall not be covered by healthcare plans funded by this initiative," Blake will say today, according to an advance copy of his remarks.
A leading abortion opponent who has fought against Obama's healthcare plan suggested Wednesday that the black ministers might not wind up in the White House's camp. Douglas Johnson, legislative director for National Right to Life, said the clergy instead should be pressing for legislative amendments that ensure no government money goes toward abortions.
"From what the pastors are saying, it sounds like what they want to do is what we want to do -- which is to ensure that these new plans not cover elective abortions," Johnson said.
The predominantly African American Church of God in Christ is one of the world's largest Pentecostal denominations, with an estimated 6 million members. Its leadership, including Blake, has been heavily courted over the years by Republicans including former President George W. Bush, who viewed them as potential conservative allies because of their views on abortion, same-sex marriage and embryonic stem cell research.