Common Ground as “Abortion Neutrality”

Before leaving for August recess, the House Energy
and Commerce Committee adopted an amendment to proposed health care reform legislation that raises
hopes of a détente in ongoing tensions over
abortion funding. The amendment, put forth by California Democrat Lois Capps,
clearly states that federal funds cannot be used to pay for so-called “elective”
abortions, ensures that private plans participating in a proposed regional
health care exchange system will neither be prohibited from nor required to pay
for abortion services, prohibits the preemption of state abortion laws (such as
those requiring parental notification and consent), and extends existing
conscience protections to health care providers particip
ating in the exchange. It also
attempts to chart a common ground course by requiring at least one plan in each
regional exchange to include, and one not to include, abortion


The Energy and
Commerce Committee’
s decision came as both sides of the abortion debate
voiced support for “abortion neutral” health care reform – that is, in order to
reach consensus on the larger issues, reform ought preserve policies that are
currently in effect regarding federal support for abortion services. While the
Capps Amendmen
t does make
significant progress toward common ground, some important questions still
remain. For instance, does abortion neutrality really serve as an adequate
standard to gauge common ground in the health care debate? Does the Capps
Amendment really constitute abortion neutrality? And how do we define abortion
neutrality in areas where federal precedent does not exist?


Indeed, new showdowns are
brewing over these very concerns, with groups like the Family Research Council
and the Catholic League spearheading a misinformation campaign to cast the
legislation as a thinly veiled attempt to force taxpayers to fund others’
abortions, and ignoring the progress that has been made toward a health care
package that can find broad public support.


More reasonable
voices have expressed legitimate concerns over some of the amendment’s
provisions. These questions,
as Steven Waldman points
, stem from
the fact that health care reform exposes issues for which there is no federal
precedent. The U.S. has never before created a government-managed health
insurance plan to compete with private options, and thus there are no standards
to uphold regarding abortion coverage in such a plan. Each side in the abortion
debate has a strong case for what, if any, role abortion should play in a public
option. By putting the decision in the hands of the Secretary of Health and
Human Services, the Energy and Commerce Committee has effectively passed the
buck either to federal regulators or the drafters of the final
while still ensuring that federal funds won’t
pay for elective abortions.


Were groups like the Family
Research Council and the Catholic League serious about abortion common ground,
they would champion the Capps Amendment’s positive points instead of issuing
categorical condemnations of its intent. For months, antiabortion extremists
have warned of a government-funded takeover of health care, which would
supposedly mandate abortion coverage as part of an essential benefits package
and force Catholic hospitals to provide services to which they morally object.
The passage of the Capps Amendment indicates that these fears are completely


These radical voices should
also take note of the status of the Hyde Amendment – which stipulates that
federal Medicaid funds cannot be used to pay for elective abortions – under the
proposed legislation. Abortion rights opponents have long argued that Hyde
protections should apply to health care reform, and the Capps Amendment
effectively accomplishes this in two ways. First, it explicitly derives the
health care bill’s definition of abortion services for which federal funding is
not allowed from the definition contained in the Hyde Amendment. Second, it
duplicates Hyde’s limitations on the use of those funds.


The Capps Amendment does not prohibit private
health care plans that cover abortion services from receiving federal subsidies,
something that has proven to be a sticking point for some abortion opponents.
These observers should note that this provision is, in fact, entirely consistent
with current federal policy. State Medicaid programs are presently allowed to
pay for abortions, provided they fund these services using non-federal monies.
And the federal government currently subsidizes private insurance through
programs like COBRA and the Health Coverage Tax Credit, without excluding those
private plans that provide abortion coverage.


As Congress moves into the
August recess, the Capps Amendment may be touted as significant progress toward
common ground in the abortion debate. Unfortunately, it is not the end of the
story. Both supporters and opponents of abortion rights should continue to
engage in constructive dialogue to establish shared parameters for what
constitutes abortion neutrality, and propose ways to achieve abortion-neutral

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

  • invalid-0

    “The Capps Amendment does not prohibit private health care plans that cover abortion services from receiving federal subsidies”

    Does that not mean that federal money will now pay (at least a portion) of the cost of abortions which had previously been paid for entirely with private money?

  • jodi-jacobson

    the funding is segregated.

    • invalid-0

      How does that work? If the premiums are subsidized for both sets of plans without an additional expense for the abortion coverage, then why wouldn’t a portion of the abortion be subsidized too? Is their an additional out of pocket payment for those who choose a subsidized plan that includes abortion coverage rather than one that does not include it? That would make sense.

  • crowepps

    Home ownership is SUBSIDIZED by federal loan guarantees and going to college is SUBSIDIZED by federal loan guarantees but that doesn’t mean the government is directly involved with whether the house has a garage or in selecting the college courses.

    • invalid-0

      It would be a subsidized garage nonetheless.

  • invalid-0

    If a private plan offered abortion coverage for the person whose plan was subsidized, there would be an additional fee (perhaps as little as $1.00 a month) that the perosn would have to pay directly and those funds would be used to pay for abortions.

  • invalid-0

    I believe that Hyde has always been immoral (and as hypocritical as he was when it came to sexual ethics). As a nation, the reality is that we have to pay for things that we may not always approve of–such as the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. If we are going to have a truly fair plan, I believe that every woman should have the full range of reproductive rights and options open to her. Anything less merely maintains the misogyny and hypocrisy of Hyde.

  • paul-bradford

    Health Care Reform means that more women will be able to access pre-natal and pediatric care. This is good news for the very young. Uninsured women access abortion services at a disproportionately high rate. If you care about the unborn you will support reform.

    • invalid-0

      Paul, suppose that pro-life Catholics and the Dems for Life hold out for the Stupak amendment or oppose reform altogether- would you rather have Capps in the bill and a real chance of the bill being defeated, or settle for Stupak-Pitts and get the support of more congresspeople and the USCCB?

  • paul-bradford

    Personally, I would rather see Stupak in the bill than Capps.  Your question ought to be directed to congressfolk with a Pro-Choice constituency. 


    While we’re on the subject of congressfolk, lets highlight John Shimkus’ (R-IL) record.  He’s the only Republican to vote against Stupak.  He’s so eager to scuttle Health Care Reform that he doesn’t want to see an amendment that would make it more likely for "Pro-Life Catholics and the Dems for Life" to give their support.


    … And he gets 100% from NRLC!


    John Shimkus, you’re supporting the abortions Barack Obama would be able to stop. 


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • noworsethanusual

    What you see below is not a real press release. It is a parody. It is offered to make a point about the policy issue under discussion. There really is no "Congressman Louis Capped," and there is no California 54th district.     Congresswoman Capps is the object of the parody, but she is a big girl and she can take it.


    Representing California’s 54th District



    September 17, 2009 5:20 p.m.



    In Speech, Congressman Capped Laments "Blatant Misinformation" and "Fabrications"Regarding His "Handguns for Hikers" Fund for National Parks; He Explains That No "Public Funds" Will Be Used, Only Mandatory Surcharges on All National Parks Admissions Fees



    WASHINGTON, D.C. — In remarks today on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Louis Capped (R-Ca.) lamented "blatant misinformation" and "fabrications" regarding his "National Parks Optional Handguns for Hikers Act of 2010," a bill that he introduced on August 19, 2009.


    "My bill is a good faith, common ground solution to the very challenging, very sensitive policy issues surrounding the carrying of loaded handguns in national parks," Congressman Capped told the House. "It is unfortunate that my bill has been greeted with a fusillade of blatant misinformation and outright fabrications. It is time to set the record straight. My critics do not have license to distort the facts at hand."


    In May, 2009, Congress enacted a new law (the Coburn Amendment) that allows citizens to carry loaded handguns for self-defense in national parks, if they meet certain state-determined qualifications. The new law, which has engendered some ill-founded controversy, takes effect on February 22, 2010.  Congressman Capped explained that he is a strong supporter of the Coburn law, but he thinks that more needs to be done.


    In his floor remarks today, Congressman Capped said, "Many handgun owners would like to visit our beautiful national parks, but they are reluctant to subject themselves to the hassle and complicated rules involved in traveling by commercial airline with a handgun. Others arrive at a national park only to discover that they have simply forgotten their handguns at home. Moreover, in these tough economic times, some citizens even have been forced to sell their handguns to pay for utilities and groceries. My National Parks Optional Handguns for Hikers Act of 2010 addresses all these problems in a way that reflects a spirit of compromise and that fully respects all points of view on this sensitive subject."


    The bill would require the National Parks Service to add a $12 surcharge on every "America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass," and to add a $3 surcharge to the cost of any daily pass to any national park. These surcharges will go exclusively into a "Handgun for Hikers Segregated Fund" in the U.S. Treasury.


    "The Handguns for Hikers segregated fund will be used for the exclusive purpose of providing handguns of high quality and adequate caliber to those who visit the national parks and who need a handgun to carry while they are in the park," Congressman Capped told the House.


    Congressman Capped said that some critics had "distorted the facts at hand" by "suggesting that my bill is actually a scheme to provide government funding for handguns, and therefore a significant departure from current law. But nothing could be further from the truth. My bill specifically prohibits any regular Interior Department appropriations from going into the Handguns for Hikers Fund. The handguns will be paid for entirely by the strictly private mandatory contributions required by my bill from every national park visitor. Those who say that these are federal funds engage in an outrageous distortion, because all of these funds will originally be in the possession of private citizens, before the Interior Department collects the money from park visitors at the gates. After that, the federal government will keep these strictly private funds in the special federal government account in the U.S. Treasury until the money is actually spent on the handguns.


    "So you see, under my bill, the federal government will offer every park visitor the means to go armed with a government-provided handgun, drawing on the contributions of his fellow park visitors, and all without spending anything that we will call federal funds," Congressman Capped explained.


    Mr. Capped added, "Certainly, I know that there are some people who may object to paying a surcharge that will be used for handguns, and I respect their viewpoint — under my bill, such people have every right to avoid the national parks system. After all, there are many fine private campgrounds and state parks, and my staff assures me that in every state there is at least one non-federal park or private campground that has a no-handguns policy, for now at least. So anybody who wants to enjoy the great outdoors but has a hangup about subsidizing handgun purchases will have other options. My bill applies the handgun surcharge only to the National Parks option."


    Congressman Capped took issue with those who have charged that the bill is not truly "neutral" on the question of carrying handguns in national parks. "It is true that every visitor to a national park would be required to pay the handgun surcharge," he said. "However, no park visitor will be required to actually claim a handgun. That will be purely a matter of personal choice, and there will be absolutely no discrimination against park visitors who choose not to take advantage of the benefit. So this is truly a handgun neutral policy."


    Congressman Capped concluded, "I only hope that we can move forward with this legislation without being further sidetracked by the distortions and fabrications of those who, in the face of these facts, continue to insist that my bill is nothing but a thinly veiled scheme to put the federal government into the business of purchasing and disseminating handguns."

  • pcsimmons

    Your analogy helps me to understand what’s wrong with the Capps amendment, NoWorseThanUsual. Thank you for taking the time to write that.


    It seems that to be an abortionist, you also have to like splitting hairs in semantics and distancing yourself from the reality of what is happening. The personality types that are twisting the information around this issue are the same ones that describe the act of abortion as "making an incursion into the amnion in order to insert the suctioning tool into the anterior fontanel of the fetus, which is then disposed of" instead of "invading a mother’s womb in order to suck out a developing baby’s brains, eventually throwing the baby’s lifeless body into the incinerator (or whatever method of disposal)".


    We have the sometimes unfortunate ability to create our own realities by moderating our perceptions of what is going on. In this case, as in the case of abortion in general, that ability is abused.