People on all sides of the abortion debate are weighing in on President Obama's health care reform plan. The idea that it could use taxpayer money to pay for abortions caused some groups to pull their support, but Obama insisted in his speech to Congress this week that will not happen.
The House health care reform bill doesn't refer specifically to abortion but does refer to family planning. Nevertheless, President Obama spoke directly to the issue in his Wednesday night address.
"Under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place," he said.
Richard Doerflinger, Deputy Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said those statements were fine and that they welcome them, but the devil is in the details.
Last month, the conference sent a letter to Congress saying it would not support health care reform if it included funding for abortions. He said he's optimistic that a major hurdle to Catholics supporting health care reform may be resolved.
"What the president has done is to issue a number of promissory notes, some very broad parameters of what a new bill would look like," Doerflinger said. "I don't know to what extent his staff is working behind the scenes to actually put all this into legislative language. It will certainly take some time if it hasn't been done."
Bill Poehler, a spokesman for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, Minnesota's largest anti-abortion group, was more direct. Regardless of the President's comments, Poehler said MCCL believes that any health care reform bill will include taxpayer funded abortions, maybe just not directly.
"A federal agency would receive bills from abortion providers and then pay for those abortions with money drawn from a federal treasury account," he said.
“Under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions.”Barack Obama
Even if the President's health care reform plan won't publicly fund abortions, about a dozen states including Minnesota already do. In 1995, the state Supreme Court ruled Minnesota had to pay for some therapeutic abortions for women on public assistance if it also paid for all the expenses associated with carrying a pregnancy to term.
The court ruled that Minnesota's constitution offered broader privacy protections for women than the federal constitution.
A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Minnesota and North & South Dakota said its CEO and the head of its political fund were traveling and unavailable for comment.
Midwest Health Center for Women is a private, nonprofit in Minneapolis, which provides abortions. About a quarter of the women who get them are on public assistance.
The center's director, Pat Sandin, said in states where taxpayers don't fund abortions organizations like the National Abortion Federation sometimes help pay for the procedure.
"While the public isn't always in [line] with the funding, I think there is other funding out there and women try to get that," Sandin said. Not that it's not difficult, but I think the sentiment is that it should be."
In July, the Minnesota Department of Health reported to the state Legislature there were about 3,840 abortions paid for through public assistance, private health plans paid for 2,800 abortions and about 5,200 women paid for their own abortions.
The cost of an abortion averages about $500, and Sandin said a share of those who paid themselves may have had health insurance that covered the procedure, but had high deductibles.