Pro-life leaders are voicing concerns over elements of the Obamacare replacement plan unveiled Monday evening by House Republicans.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative policy organization, issued a statement Tuesday noting that money from refundable tax credits provided by the plan could be used to pay for abortions.
House Speaker Paul Ryan released the draft legislation, called the American Health Care Act, to a tepid response from conservatives who would prefer to repeal Obamacare and then pass a replacement for it.
On his organization’s website and in an email to supporters, Perkins said:
The American Health Care Act contains important provisions which prevent these health care credits and state block grants from paying for plans that cover abortion on demand. However, there is still a pro-life concern in the bill because it could allow funds from the refundable credits to pay for abortions in health savings accounts.
If the House amends the legislation to specify that tax credits cannot be used for abortion, Perkins suggested, Senate Republicans face significant challenges in passing such language.
Another pro-life group, Americans United for Life, tweeted Wednesday:
— AUL (@AUL) March 8, 2017
Republicans are using a tool called budget reconciliation to pass their Obamacare replacement plan because it requires only 51 votes to clear the Senate, rather than 60 votes to end debate and proceed to a floor vote.
However, the Byrd rule, which dates to 1985 and is named for the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., “limits the type of policies that can be included in reconciliation to those that are specifically related to the budget,” Rachel Bovard, director of policy services at The Heritage Foundation, said in an email to The Daily Signal.
The rule could prevent pro-life language from being included in the Senate version of the measure to repeal and replace Obamacare.
If a senator invokes the Byrd rule, the “extraneous matter” of disallowing use of tax credits for abortion could be stuck down, unless 60 senators voted to waive the rule. Republicans hold 52 Senate seats.
“Right now it’s unclear whether or not this pro-life provision would pass muster in the Senate,” said Bovard, a former Senate aide.
An Obamacare repeal and replace bill that doesn’t include a pro-life provision is exactly what concerns Perkins.
“If the abortion funding restrictions for health care credits and state funds in this new bill fails in the Senate, then these provisions will subsidize abortion. In that case, the pro-life community could not support the overall bill and should oppose it,” he said.
In 2015, the House and Senate passed an Obamacare repeal bill with a pro-life component using the budget reconciliation process. It “cleared all the procedural loopholes in the Senate,” Bovard said, though President Barack Obama vetoed it in January 2016.
While Republicans’ new repeal and replace bill, the American Health Care Act, does include pro-life measures such as a yearlong freeze on federal taxpayers’ money going to Planned Parenthood, pro-life organizations say the bill could go further.
Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs at the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said lawmakers have work to do on the replacement plan.
“There is still a great deal of work to be done to ensure that this entire bill is pro-life, specifically with regards to tax credits and health care savings—ensuring that neither go to pay for abortion,” McClusky said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “Our message is simple: Abortion is not health care, and our laws should reflect this basic principle.”
— March for LifeAction (@MFLAction) March 8, 2017
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, the nation’s largest pro-life youth organization, said taxpayer funding for abortion is a deal breaker.
“Congress cannot pass anything that would give money to Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry, especially if it is even more than they are currently receiving through Obamacare, which is a distinct possibility if the Hyde protections are lost,” Hawkins said in a statement to The Daily Signal.
The Hyde Amendment, established in 1976 and named after the late Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., prohibits use of federal funds for most elective abortions.
“The bottom line is that no taxpayer funding of abortion is acceptable, ever,” Hawkins said.
Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, told The Daily Signal in an email that the organization applauds Republican efforts to craft a pro-life replacement plan, but reaffirms its stance on opposing use of federal funds to pay for abortions. Tobias said:
National Right to Life opposes the use of subsidies or tax credits which could be used to cover abortion in any federal health plan. We recognize the time and effort put into the drafting of the House bill and thank congressional leadership for their efforts so far to see that abortion is not to be covered in the American Health Care Act. We look forward to working with them to make sure this goal is met.