Mainstream Media Reinforces Unexamined Arguments Against Public Funding for Abortion

Will abortion be the magic bullet that kills off health care reform?  Certainly it seems that mainstream media sources—the same ones that are pushing the idea that health care reform is dead, in a classic “tell a lie until it’s true” maneuver—believe that abortion is an effective cudgel to beat health care reform to death.  (Why there’s strong motivation to kill health care reform is a topic for another day—my pet theory is that many pundits are angry with Democrats for making them cover complicated policy issues, when they’d rather be talking about what Sonia Sotomayor is wearing and whether or not Regina Benjamin is too fat.)  

Sunday afternoon, I plugged the word “abortion” into Google News to see what I got back.  Just the word “abortion”, with no other terms like “health care”, and the first hit was 13,000 stories about abortion and health care reform.  And sadly, there was rampant disregard, and in some cases, open contempt for the truth of the situation.

Here’s the unvarnished truth: There is no way that any kind of public health care plan will have elective abortion coverage.  Nor is there any real chance of abortion becoming mandated coverage.  It’s more likely that breast implants will be paid for by tax money.  It’s more likely that a public insurance option will provide everyone with an iPod Touch.  Believe me; even most pro-choicers gave up a long time ago on hoping that we could overturn the Hyde Amendment that bans women who are on federally funded insurance programs from getting elective abortions covered, and there’s no way that this will change if the number of women on federally funded health insurance grows. And even though it would only be fair and cost-effective to mandate coverage for elective abortion, in this country that’s sadly a pipe dream.

But you wouldn’t know it to read the media coverage of this issue.  Instead, we’ve got the toxic mixture of pants-on-fire lying anti-choicers and cowardly media outlets that give the opponents of health care reform an opportunity to lie about the potential for taxpayer-funded abortions. Fox News, of course, has been at the forefront of promoting the absolutely evidence-free assertion that there’s any chance of abortion becoming mandated coverage, but I’ve also been surprised to see NPR allow Douglas Johnson of National Right To Life lie, stating, “And there is no doubt whatever that abortion, elective abortion, would be among those services mandated.”  Though I shouldn’t have been surprised—the lazy reliance on “some people say X/some people say Y” journalism has created a situation where all sorts of people who view the truth as a mere obstacle get to go on TV and the radio and lie without being confronted about it.

One thing that makes pushing back against the abortion narrative that’s forming in the mainstream media is that health care defenders— including President Obama—are so busy trying to shut down the misinformation about abortion coverage that we’re not having the more interesting discussion about whether or not abortion should be covered.  And by not having that discussion, we’re allowing the belief that some people’s moral objections to abortion should dictate federal policy lay unchallenged.

Jamison Foser of Media Matters wrote
a thought-provoking article about how the common wisdom has come to
support the idea of bans on federal funding of abortion coverage, and
the lapse of professional responsibility that allows journalists to
perpetuate this common wisdom.  He points to the privileging of
opposition to abortion over support for abortion rights as the cause:

Instead, Matthews has adopted the premise that taxpayer funds shouldn’t be used to pay for abortions, no matter how indirectly, because some taxpayers believe abortion to be immoral. On Wednesday’s Hardball, for example, Matthews asked Obama adviser David Axelrod: "[I]f the federal government spends money on abortions, that means people who believe abortion is evil would be forced to have their tax money go to pay for abortions. How do you justify that?"

That premise is only superficially compelling, and has no business underlying an impartial news report. After all, millions of Americans believe the death penalty and wars of choice are immoral. But the moral beliefs of pacifists and death penalty opponents are not granted the privilege the media grants opposition to legal abortion — and so you rarely see a news report premised on the idea that taxpayer funding for war or capital punishment is inappropriate.

The whole article beyond just this excerpt is compelling, so I highly recommend it.  I’m going to agree with Foser that the assumption that anti-choicers are the ones who have “morality” (as if putting yourself out there in defense of women’s lives, as pro-choicers do, isn’t moral) feeds this.  But I think there’s more to the story than that.  And I think it’s because war and the death penalty aren’t about sex, and so they aren’t as interesting to people.

Or, to put it another way, war and the death penalty are grim things that we like to pretend that proponents don’t enjoy.  (Not likely true in the case of the likes of Dick Cheney, but for the sake of the argument.)  Opponents of using taxpayer money to kill real people can’t get around the assumption that war and death penalty supporters are serious people who have at least considered the moral weight of taking human lives.

But I suspect that anti-choicers latched onto taxpayer-funded abortions, because they can count on a lot of the public to imagine the government funding female licentiousness.  Anger about (purely imaginary) taxpayer-funded abortion has more in common with anger about (also imaginary) “welfare queens”, who are also constructed as sexual deviants who use government money to fund their sex lives. I’m reminded of Bill O’Reilly’s rant against insurance companies covering contraception, where he compared covering contraception to paying for women’s dinner dates.  
Rarely do anti-choicers leaning on this stereotype of sexual women as frivolous and amoral need to actually say it as bluntly as O’Reilly did. 

But this ongoing belief that a woman who sees action between her thighs has none going on in her head is the constant fuel in the abortion debate fire, no matter what the flavor of the debate is this month. But the good news is that this contempt for female sexuality has receded enough that the media debate hasn’t—yet—turned to whether or not health care reform should cover contraception.

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  • invalid-0

    I’d like to correct the assertion that “even most pro-choicers gave up a long time ago that we could overturn the Hyde Amendment.” The reproductive justice community has not given up, not in the least, and we won’t give up. See the National Network of Abortion Funds Hyde: 30 Years is Enough! campaign (which can be found at their website, which has almost 200 participating organizations nationwide. Just because NARAL doesn’t talk about Hyde doesn’t mean this isn’t an issue that adversely affects women and that those of us still fighting to repeal Hyde have seen firsthand how women are harmed everyday. Or that we’ve given up in any way. Because we haven’t, and I resent the implication that we have or that we don’t count because we’re suddenly not “most pro-choicers.”

    It’s incredibly disheartening to me to read that someone who supports abortion rights is so pessimistic about the possibility of health care reform covering abortion care. Why must we always roll over and let the other side win? When do we stop the shame spiral and stand proud and demand our rights? We shouldn’t be discounting the possibility that health care reform will include abortion rights, but speak out about why including abortion care would be a good thing for everyone. I’m sick of letting the antis control the message. We have to STOP being so complacent and be more vocal ourselves.

  • invalid-0

    Thanks Heather, for keeping up the fight. We have to start taking control of the conversation. It seems like we just play defense, it’s no wonder we’re not advancing. We need to demand it from our elected officials, as well as ourselves, to take control of the message. Please keep us posted on what we can do to help.

    • invalid-0

      The main place to advance is not at the federal level, but within blue states and those ultraviolet counties and municipalities that could fund abortion and contracption far more heavily that they do, with moderate taxes because it pays for itself many time over in local taxes for public schools and childcare. Such ultraviolet municipalities include Berkely CA, Amherst MA, and others. Advance by seting national funding precidents at the local level.
      Contraception and abortion are so cost effective for municipalities, that one ultraviolet municipality could fund abortions beyond it’s borders, for an entire state without taxing itself excessively.
      This is very different from most of the budget busting liberal agenda.

  • amanda-marcotte

    It’s tragic that the mainstream reproductive rights movement has given up that fight, but as you’ll see in the article, I fully support reproductive justice efforts to overturn the Hyde Amendment.  I think the courts are wrong about it, and that it is gender discrimination.

  • invalid-0

    After all, millions of Americans believe the death penalty and wars of choice are immoral. But the moral beliefs of pacifists and death penalty opponents are not granted the privilege the media grants opposition to legal abortion

    But remember, abortion is about PRIVACY, a private act. It is only appropriate not to drag others into the grisly, PRIVATE thing.

  • brianh

    Let me help explain to you why Pro-Lifers know that any increase of funds to Planned Parenthood from Obama is funding abortions. It’s really simple. 
    (Hint: We already fund abortions at Planned Parenthood)

    I’ll simplify the numbers for everyone to show how easy this is.

    I’ll be using the Annual Report for 2008 for this.

    Let’s represent the $1 Billion Revenue as $100. This means that $34 is from Tax Payers, $24 from Donations, $36 income (at least $12 of which is income from abortions), $6 from "Other".

    Because they are receiving a full third of their revenue from tax dollars (that can’t be spent on providing abortions) they are free to spend two thirds of their revenue on providing abortions (and other things of course, but abortions are expensive what with insurance costs and what not). Minus that third of revenue from tax dollars they would have to re work where they spend money to cover the lost revenue that was paying for: abortion advertisements, abortifacient contraceptive services, contraceptive services, management costs, mammograms, etc. In order to do so Abortion services would have to be reduced.

    So let us summarize:

    Tax Dollars In = Abortions Up = Government funded abortions

  • invalid-0

    Working in a clinic, I noticed that 95% of patients paid for abortion care in cash, even if their insurance would have covered it. I confirmed that this was also true with a colleague who has worked in a different clinic for over 30 years. She noted that especially if the patient worked in health care or for an insurance company, she would be sure to pay in cash so that her medical record would never reflect the fact that she’d had an abortion. I work hard every day to decrease the stigma of abortion, and even I would think to the few patients who handed me their cards – WHY are you using your insurance?? Do you know how many people could get access to your insurance information? This record will follow you FOREVER??

    Is this a trend elsewhere? I’d like to know how many abortions are actually paid for with insurance coverage as a percentage of the total number of procedures performed in the US each year. How terrible to think that women’s health care has been dredged in shame and shoved so far into the corner that WOMEN WOULD NOT USE THE COVERAGE FOR ABORTION ANYWAY for fear of it being revealed.

  • crowepps

    Since abortion services are only 3% of what Planned Parenthood provides, entirely removing their federal funding wouldn’t affect those services at all.  It would, however, sure increase the number of women whose breast cancer and cervical cancer remains undetected until it’s too late to treat it effectively.


    And there aren’t any ‘abortifacient contraceptive services’ that I know of — unless you’re referring to RU-486?  That’s included under ‘abortion’.  There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that Plan B and the birth control pill cause abortions.

  • crowepps

    The Supreme Court has made it crystal clear that objections of conscience have no weight in deciding whether to pay taxes – objections to the death penalty, to funding the military, even those to funding a government which was actively denying the taxpayer full citizenship have all been found groundless.


    And I would point out, Lucille, that if abortion is about PRIVACY, then the presence of ‘sidewalk counselors’ and their insistence in thrusting their opinons at people who don’t want to listen to them is a blatant invasion of that privacy.

  • brianh

    I love that 3% number.  That is definitely the most hilarious bit of numbers manipulation I’ve ever seen.  Of course getting the real number is impossible from their annual report.


    The way they come up with the 3% of our Health services number is by sheer numbers of clients.  Then they double dip on those clients also.  So what you see is this:


    Contraception: 3,889,980

    STDs: 3,363,222

    Screenings: 1,900,850

    Other: 1,207,340 (Pregnancy Tests)

    Abortion: 305,310

    Other: 255,123


    These numbers are already inflated in that at the bottom it states that unduplicated clients total is 3,020,651 so the 3,889,980 contraception number is inflated at least by 869,331 duplicated clients.  There really is no way to be able to use these numbers to find out how many people really are actually receiving what services.  Also, there’s no showing how much money is spent by Planned Parenthood to provided these services.


    We can surmise that handing out condoms is cheap.  Handing out pills is cheap, Pap tests are cheap, blood tests are cheap.  Surgical abortions are expensive.


    Also, just taking the unduplicated clients number and the number of abortion clients and we see 10% of the clients that came to Planned Parenthood had abortions.


    In conclusion 3% is pure fabricated bull poop.

  • invalid-0

    Interesting to consider that women are afraid to use their insurance to pay for their abortion. It’s interesting because your medical records are supposed to be private but we all know that’s a joke. Why else would they pay in cash?

    Despite the fact that abortion is less of a stigma than decades past, it still is something very, very private. —-at least until you encounter abortion protesters who violate every shred of privacy or respect. And then shame women.

    Fortunately, more and more women are speaking out about their abortions, about the need for access to comprehensive reproductive health care that includes abortion, and about the absolute safety of medical and surgical abortions. I would encourage others to speak up, speak out and vote.

  • invalid-0

    Let me make this really simple. You are a male. You do not get pregnant. You should have no say in this matter.

    • invalid-0

      Thanks for being sexist, but ~50% of American Taxpayers are Men, so we do, in fact, get a say. Nevermind the fact that every single pregnancy has a man involved.

      Feminism and reproductive rights causes don’t need to be about man-hating. We’re all human beings here, and you (and your cause) would do well to alienate no one.

      Also, I understand that adoptions agreed upon before birth typically have the adoptive parents footing the birthing costs, so it would behoove a young woman with no insurance and no public funding for abortions to set up an adoption instead. Is this sort of thing something that’s within Planned Parenthood’s abilities to facilitate?

  • crowepps

    Thanks for providing better numbers, Brian.  Of course, your own figures show that only 10% of clients had abortions, and of course taking into account that some of those abortions are NOT surgical abortions, that approximately 60% instead use RU-486, that would mean about 4% would be surgical abortions, right?

  • brianh

    Wow.  I had never heard that 60% of abortions were from RU-486.


    Hmmm.  I just checked online real quick and according to Alan Guttmacher (which of course has ties to Planned Parenthood) only 13% of abortions are "medication abortions".


    I guess that would leave 8.7% as surgical then?

  • crowepps

    My fault, I read the figures for Europe and applied them to the USA.  Thanks for the link, even though it’s outdated – figures from 2005.

    Still disagree with your theory, however, that withholding government funding for women’s other health care would decrease abortions — it’s an economically unsound theory.


    Decreasing supply doesn’t in and of itself change demand — instead continuing demand results in the the number of suppliers increasing.

  • brianh

    Still disagree with your theory, however, that withholding government
    funding for women’s other health care would decrease abortions — it’s
    an economically unsound theory.

    Well I base this on the Alan Guttmacher Institutes Restrictions on Medicaid Funding for Abortions: A Literature Review that concludes that abortion numbers decline when federal tax dollars are removed.  The highlights at the top states:

    "Approximately one-fourth of women who would have Medicaid-funded abortions instead give birth when this funding is unavailable."

    This suggests that when abortions aren’t cheaper and/or free approximately 25% of women choose to keep their children.

  • invalid-0

    i wish you good luck and keeping up with fight!

  • invalid-0

    I haven’t been following this conversation the entire way but are pap tests really inexpensive when not already subsidized? I thought many women found them to be cost prohibitive so went to planned parenthood for the lower fees due to the funding .

  • invalid-0

    It also suggests that when that money isn’t there, they can’t afford abortions–IOW they don’t have access to the service, which wouldn’t make it a ‘choice’ at all. And if they can’t afford that, do you really think they can afford pre-natal care, let alone a child?

  • crowepps

    The study said they "give birth", it didn’t say anything about keeping.


    And since they didn’t have the funding, your use of the word ‘choose’ is kind of ironic.  Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say "25% of poor women were forced to give birth"?

  • invalid-0

    Thank you.

    SO tired of the pro-liars on this site.

  • brianh

    Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say "25% of poor women were forced to give birth"?

    No.  Nobody forced them to get pregnant.  Also, giving birth is more expensive than abortion ( so if they needed to take the cheapest way out they’d choose abortion.  The fact is that when they have to put their money into it they choose not to do it.

  • invalid-0

    Nice try, but even the ‘cheapest’ options require payment. If they don’t have the money upfront, these women can’t get abortions without Medicare. Abortion isn’t one of those things where you go the the ER and try to pay later, so if they have to put their own money into it, abortion is no longer and option for some women. That’s not ‘choosing’, that economics.

    I wonder how many of that 25% actually go to the hospital for labour and delivery, and how many attempt giving birth at home without medical assistance.

  • noworsethanusual

    Amanda Marcotte raises the excellent question of why National Public Radio allowed Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) to tell that brazen lie that the health care legislation that the White House is pushing will cover abortions. But there is a bigger problem, because Johnson is not the only one spreading that lie. Cecile Richards, the head of Planned Parenthood, was quoted by NPR too, and instead of explaining what a liar that Johnson is and how of course the legislation won’t cover abortions, Richards came right out and claimed that the bill would be "platform" to extend access to abortion to "all women and families."


    The next thing you know, the president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the Rev. Carlton W. Veazey, sends an e-mail all over the country promoting the legislation, in which he said, "Let there be no mistake, basic healthcare includes abortion services." (It is pretty disappointing, a man of the cloth just plain out lying like that.)


    And the National Abortion Federation has been no more truthful, sending out a position paper that said, "NAF supports health care reform as a way to increase access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion care, for all women."


    So a few weeks ago I was happy to see that Dana Goldstein at the American Prospect blog had posted an interview with NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan, because I figured she would set the record straight and lay this controversy to rest — but damned if Keenan didn’t just feed the flames of prevarication by saying, "If, indeed, we can advance a panel or commission, then I am very optimistic about reproductive health care being part of this entire package," and of course everybody knows that this bill does create a commission with power to tell even private health plans what services they must cover.


    Some of these liars and their journalistic sympathizers have even dug out Obama’s remarks to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in 2007, where Obama said, "Well, look, in my mind reproductive care is essential care, basic care so it is at the center, the heart of the plan that I propose . . . insurers are going to have to abide by the same rules in terms of providing comprehensive care, including reproductive care . . . that’s going to be absolutely vital." This shows just how low they will stoop.


    In the face of all this rampant lying, it is good to see that one person, at least — Amanda Marcotte — sees clearly that it is an "absolutely evidence-free assertion that there’s any chance of abortion becoming mandated coverage," and that the bill would no more subsidize abortions than iPods. And she even explains why that is so — because of the Hyde Amendment. Although I admit that I am a little confused by that part, because I read that the health care bill creates a new funding mechanism for the big new health coverage premium subsidies, and that this new money pipeline (they call it "self-appropriated," whatever that means) would not be covered at all by the Hyde Amendment. Somebody should look into that, because it sounds like just the kind of detail that is likely to further confuse all those congressmen who have already been confused by all those liars who say that the health care plan will cover abortion.

    • jodi-jacobson

      Dear No Worse Than Usual,

      I wanted to correct some assumptions underlying the issue of abortion coverage.
      The majority of women today covered by private insurance do indeed have coverage for abortion care.

      The issue of abortion coverage within health reform is that
      the far right wants to eliminate *any* coverage for abortion care whether in private or in publicly subsidized plans. I explained some of these issues here.

      If 10 out of 100 people on a private plan get any partial subsidy for that plan from the government, the far right wants to eliminate coverage of abortion care throughout the entire plan, e.g. for those 10 and for the other 90 paying entirely with their own money.
      In the same way the far right has tried to argue that because Planned Parenthood provides abortion care, no public monies should go to

      Planned Parenthood for the other 90 percent of its services including contraception, pap smears, well-woman exams, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections and so on.

      this is again the same manner in which the US government under the global gag rule refused to provide any funding to groups overseas using their own private or separately allcoated funds for any kind of work on abortion –even referring for abortion where they did not provide abortion services.
      So in essence, yes, most private plans now cover abortion services–the majority of women have this coverage.

      If the health reform bill excludes coverage under the scenarios currently being pressed by the far right, then two things will happen.

      One is women will lose their current care (in other words they will be worse off than they are now with less coverage) and two, poor women will remain without coverage for abortion care as they are the most likely to be subsidized.


      Best wishes,
      Jodi Jacobson

      • noworsethanusual

        You say, "The majority of women today covered by private insurance do indeed have coverage for abortion care." But I poked around on the "National Right to Life" website, and they have a paper up about the bill that claims that Kathleen Sebelius told the Senate in writing, when she was up for confirmation as Secretary of Health and Human Services in April, “Most private plans do not cover abortion services except in limited instances, but do cover family planning, and Congress has limited the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan to covering abortion services only in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the mother is in danger.”
        It seems that Sebelius is saying exactly the opposite of what you are saying. This is very confusing, don’t you think?


        The same paper quotes Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the insurance industry’s trade association," in "CQ Today" (whatever that is), July 15, 2009, saying that "Most people with employer-sponsored insurance also must pay for abortions out of their own pocket. ‘Most insurers offer plans that include this coverage, but most employers choose not to offer it as part of their benefits package,’" he said. It seems like he is saying the same thing as Sebelius. Very confusing.


        Anyway, I take your main point to be that these government subsidies would be going to plans that cover abortion, but it is not really the government subsidizing abortion coverage, because the plans are not 100 per cent government funded? But I am not sure that I follow the point that if the bill did not allow subsidies to go to abortion plans, then "poor women will remain without coverage for abortion care as they are the most likely to be subsidized." If they are poor they don’t have federal abortion coverage now, because either they have no health insurance at all or they are covered by Medicaid, and federal funds don’t pay for Medicaid abortions because of the Hyde Amendment, like Amanda Marcotte explained up above. So if that is the case, even if the lying right-wing zealots get their way, it would not be taking anything away from those women, because they don’t have abortion coverage now, right? This is all very confusing. 

  • invalid-0

    Abortion coverag is the ONLY selling point for healthcare. I oppose health care, both public and private, because it causes overpopulaion. Abortion and contracption are te only mitigating factor. I especially oppose healthcare subsidies for fertility treatments and IVF, which cause overpopulation even more than other poluting wastes like prenatatal care.

    I fight healthcare tooth and nail now that it includes fertility treatments but excludes abortion.