I think they are right.
The amendment prohibits the use of government funds either directly or indirectly for abortion coverage. It effectively would exclude insurance plans that cover abortion from the government run "exchange" that is envisioned. This is since all those plans would be eligible to receive subsidy money from lower income or cash strapped middle class families as part of the mandate for universal health insurance. In theory the government wants the vast majority of insurance to be provided through the private sector.
An effort was made by pro-abortion legislators to replace the amendment with one that would have admitted insurance plans that cover abortion into the exchange provided they segregate any funds from government subsidies This was justly dismissed as an accounting gimmick that would still have left abortion providing insurer's holding government money. Effectively creating what the New York Times, in a rare moment of editorial honesty, labeled "a distinction without a difference."
There is much that I find disturbing in the House bill that recently passed. But it does have some redeeming elements to it. This is clearly one of them. I think the bill is profoundly flawed in its mechanics and in urgent need of revision. But the inclusion of this amendment is enough to make me pause and draw a very deep breath before condemning the bill out of hand. If (a very big word) some form of major health reform were to pass Congress this year, and if this amendment or something functionally identical were included, it would severely limit the ability to employ insurance to cover the cost of killing one's child.
On a purely secondary but not unimportant level it would have the effect of putting abortion under the censure of public law. By so very firmly prohibiting federal funds (there are a handful of narrowly defined exceptions) from being used to cover abortions or subsidize abortion covering insurance Congress would be making a clear statement that however legal it might be, the practice is repugnant to the sensibilities of most Americans. This is in keeping with recent polls that show for the first time since Roe v Wade a majority of Americans self identify as "pro-life."
For years the pro-life movement has been obsessed with an all or nothing strategy that I think has been self defeating. This is not a battle that will be won in an afternoon. It is a war that will be won over many years with lots of small battles playing out over that time. We will win some and we will loose some. Indeed we already have.
But after years of reversals I sense a shift in the tide of fortune. Public opinion is moving in the right direction. It is important to remember though that even among those who now self identify as pro-life you will get a diversity of opinion. Many would still tolerate the practice in the first trimester. Point in fact there is vast disagreement within the pro-life movement about where to draw the line.
The Roman Catholic Church's position is that there is no line. We Orthodox are very close to that position although the Church does not presume to judge in cases where the mother's life is in danger. Beyond that most pro-life seem to be comfortable with exceptions for rape and incest. For the record I am not. I draw the line at the life of the mother.
But even if we set the bar fairly low by the pro-life standard it is possible by means of an "inch at a time" strategy to envision a slow process by which abortion once again falls under the harsh judgment of a civilized society and becomes progressively more restricted.
If you will pardon the ubiquitous sports analogy, in baseball this is called winning by small ball. What we have been doing for the last thirty years is going for the dramatic long ball, or home run. As repulsive as it is, we must accept the fact that the Supreme Court is most unlikely to admit they made a mistake in Roe and overturn three decades of judicial precedent. With this view in mind we should be focusing on nibbling at the edges of this odious ruling until we reduce it to near meaninglessness. We need to start fighting the small battles and taking imperfect compromises where we can get them if they move a runner to the next base.
This is ultimately how the war for the lives of the unborn will be won.
"I am usually glad to get some of what I want today as opposed to nothing, especially when I know I can still fight for the rest later on."-Ronald Reagan