The Abortion Distortion: Setting The Record–and John Boehner–Straight on the Capps Amendment

Adding to the rampant mythmaking that health care reform will result in a mandate for taxpayer-funded abortions, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) yesterday released a GOP Leader Alert with a tag line that reads “Despite Democrats’ Claims, the ‘Capps Compromise’ was Just for Political Cover” and asserting that “the legislation [in the House of Representatives] would in fact allow abortions to be subsidized by taxpayer funds.”

The only political cover being used here is by those who oppose health care reform.

The GOP Alert contains numerous distortions, using quotes that do not support the contentions made in the alert itself.   For example, according to the alert:

The Associated Press has reported, for example, that “Health care legislation before Congress would allow a new government-sponsored insurance plan to cover abortions” and FactCheck.Org has stated that the “House bill would allow abortions to be covered by a federal plan and by federally subsidized private plans.

Note to Boehner: Neither of these quotations actually says that abortion coverage would be paid for with government money.  

That’s because under the Capps Amendment (PDF), it wouldn’t.

In fact, a “federal plan” or a “federally-subsidized private plan” that covers abortion would be required, pursuant to the Capps Amendment, to use money from private premiums to pay for abortion care.

These facts notwithstanding, the alert concludes:

The bottom line? H.R. 3200 does not contain any limitation on federal funds authorized or appropriated in the bill from being used to pay for elective abortion or to subsidize the purchase of insurance coverage of elective abortion. (Emphasis in original.)

Oh if only that were true, abortion rights advocates could go home because their work would be done.

To reach this conclusion, Boehner cites Sections 115 and 122 of the bill, neither of which says anything about payment mechanisms.  It is Sections 203 (SEGREGATION OF FUNDS) and 241(c) (PROHIBITION OF USE OF PUBLIC FUNDS FOR ABORTION COVERAGE) that ensure no public money will be spent on abortion.

To make his assertions, Mr. Boehner conveniently skips over the portion of Section 122 amended by Rep. Capps (D-CA) to prohibit the HHS Secretary or a Health Benefits Advisory Committee from requiring a health plan to include abortion coverage in order to participate in the Health Insurance Exchange.

Instead, he actually claims, in direct conflict with the plain reading of the bill, that abortion could be mandated as part of an essential benefits package.  The alert reads:

Page 26; Section 122 – The bill defines what would be deemed an “essential benefits package,” or in other words what the government sets as benefits or services that must be covered by an insurance plan. This section, however, contains no explicit exclusion or prohibition from abortion being deemed part of an essential benefits package. Without such an exclusion, the bill leaves open the possibility of federally mandated coverage of abortion as an essential benefit.

hard to imagine how he missed it, given that the new section is clearly

So, when you’re debating this topic at Town Hall meetings or around your kitchen table, here are two main points to keep in mind:

1) The Capps Amendment is meant to be a compromise, which means both sides must be willing to give some ground.  Abortion-rights proponents in Congress are not trying to use health care reform as a vehicle to expand abortion access (although it would be appropriate for them to do so as reform is supposed to be about expanding access to health care).  By the same token, abortion-rights opponents should not try to use health care reform as a vehicle to restrict access to abortion care.

2) This issue is a red herring.  Most of the politicians and interest groups who protest abortion coverage in health care reform do not want reform to succeed at all. Among the few groups who want health reform but have a genuine objection to abortion coverage, even they cherry pick.  For instance, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (who is cited in the Alert) also opposes contraception, sterilization, and end of life care, but they are only using their great lobbying power to oppose abortion coverage.  The implication is that they will somehow learn to live with taxpayer money being used for these other services.

Assuming the person you’re debating isn’t holding a gun or calling you a Nazi, you could also try making these arguments:

1) The Capps Amendment applies to the public option as much as it applies to private plans in the exchange, so even if the HHS Secretary does allow the public option to include abortion services, under the current version of the bill they will only be paid for with private premiums.  The same goes for federally subsidized private plans that choose to cover abortion – only private premiums would be used to pay for abortion care.

2) This is an entirely theoretical debate at this point.  The bill neither mandates nor prohibits abortion coverage, nor any other health care service.  Under the pending legislation, either the HHS Secretary or an independent commission of experts and citizens will determine what will be included in a minimum benefits package, and 75 percent of Americans want it that way.  Congress is the wrong place to have this fight.

3) Abortion care is part of basic health care and should not be denied simply because the government wants to play a larger role in our health care system.  Most employer-sponsored health plans cover abortion.  Women should not lose this coverage in order to purchase insurance through a new health care exchange. Moreover, a recent poll showed that two-thirds of Americans want comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion, to be part of any reform package and 6 out of 10 Americans would oppose a bill that excludes such coverage.

4) There is more than one view on this issue.  A woman’s rights should not depend on her wallet, and if a woman needs assistance in order to obtain abortion care, the government ought to able to provide it, even if that means taxpayer money will be used for a purpose to which some citizens object.  Currently, taxpayer money is used for the war in Iraq, stem cell research, the death penalty, and teaching evolution in our public schools – all activities to which some taxpayers object. Abortion opponents are not entitled to special treatment.

There has been a lot of intentional blurring of the lines in the debate over abortion in health care reform.  Although many opponents of health care reform seem allergic to the facts (see the “death panels” debate), the public deserves more.  Yes, this is a controversial topic and deserves vigorous debate, but let’s have a dialogue that is based on actual facts, not hyperbole, misinformation, and outright distortions.

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  • evstrong

    See – Under the proposed plan, abortion coverage would, in fact, be paid for with government money.


    "Most of the politicians and interest groups who protest abortion coverage in health care reform do not want reform to succeed at all."


    How do you know this?


    I don’t think that anyone should be making assumptions about their opponents’ motives or desires. All we can really know are people’s actions and words. Yet every time I open my mouth and say, "Mandated abortion coverage should not be a part of health care reform," people are very quick to assert that I’m just using this as a distraction and that I’m really "in bed with the insurance companies." How could they possibly know such reasons behind what I say? Those reside solely in my own mind and heart.


    In fact, many of us actually do support this health care reform but the abortion issue is a sticking point just for its own sake – not as cover or distraction from something else.


    Furthermore, many people support reforming our system but just do not agree that the particulars of what is being proposed now are a good way to achieve that. Political disagreements usually amount to agreeing on ends but disagreeing on means. Let’s be fair.

  • jessica-arons

    Thanks for your comment.


    Factcheck said the government would fund the public option and contribute to federally-subsidized private plans, which would be allowed to cover abortion, but acknowledged that the Capps Amendment would prohibit public money from being used to pay for abortion services.   The upshot is no government money would be used for abortion care (other than in cases of life, rape, or incest), and the government would not be allowed to discriminate against plans that chose to offer abortion services by withholding federal funds from those plans for all other covered services.  There’s a difference between funding a particular service and funding a plan that offers that service.  If the two sides are unable to agree about even that distinction, then a workable compromise will be very difficult indeed.


    I was very careful not to cast aspersions on the motives of individuals and to challenge only the motives of most – not all – politicians and interest groups who are making a lot of noise about this issue.


  • crowepps

    I have formed no opinion of your motivations or character but I think this argument should be carried to its logical conclusion. As I understand the argument, if government ‘subsidizes’ 95% of a person’s medical insurance, and the person pays 5% out of pocket, the 5% would be the part that covers abortion. To say that government subsidies FACILITATE the abortions because the person would otherwise not have the 5% available to purchase their own abortion coverage leads into murky territory. After all, if ANY coverage is provided to women of reproductive age, then having insurance to cover other medical needs frees up their private funds to pay for abortions privately. The only way to manipulate this system so that women are unable to afford abortions is to exclude women of reproductive age altogether in the hopes that they will be too broke to come up with the necessary $400. Of course, this wouldn’t leave them in great physical shape for the biological task of hosting a pregnancy, but this is irrelevant to those who are obsessed with keeping it in place prenatally and shove off the eventual stillbirths, birth defects and disabilities into the enormous realm of things they believe ‘serve people like that right for making poor choices’.

  • golden1014


    I find it very interesting that you say ” I was very careful not to cast aspersions on the motives of individuals and to challenge only the motives of most – not all – politicians and interest groups”. It is obvious that you are a pro-abortion advocate. Why not just say so up front? You wrote that Republicans are guilty of “rampant mythmaking” and being “allergic to the facts” but then try to cool everybody off by telling us how open-minded you are.

    Looking at this debate from the perspective of an average American–which I am–one thing is clear: Democrats are deliberately trying to fool us with this plan. Another post mentioned the “murkiness” of the bill, and that’s a good term. It is deliberately murky, so-designed by an army of liberal lawyers to fool regular Americans into voting for this.

    We regular Americans are tired of democrat lawyer trickery. I suggest that you should be too. To avoid trickery–which Rebublican lawmakers do as well–I suggest that both you and I demand the bill to be written simply. The bill should CLEARLY STATE “This bill shall not fund abortion.” If it did, there would be no debate. But alas, it is not written in such a manner–which leads this American to believe that there are legal loopholes that will allow abortion to continue unabated. Abortion, I might add, has nothing to do with health care. Abortion is the selfish destruciton of innocent, helpless human life–something that liberals protest under the false banner of human rights.

    Democrats need to stop hiding their true intentions from the American people. You completely own all three branches of government–with a super-majority in Congress, all the unions, all the lawyers, the schools, the cities, half the corporations, and the media. You won. Your voice is heard and is overwhelming. Why do you need to lie about this bill? Say it up front and tell us what you know in your heart is true–this bill contains provisions for abortion. If it doesn’t then write it on page 2. But you won’t do that–because your gig will be up. If you’re right and your argument concerning abortion is true, you won’t need to defend it.

    I am an American soldier, a protector of your freedom, and I stand against abortion. I am not a liberal as liberalism is a replacement theology for Christianity. May God bless you and your argument.

    John Golden
    Bloomington, IN

  • noworsethanusual



    Congressman Capped Announces "Handguns for Hikers" Fund for National Parks; He Explains That No Tax Funds Will Be Used, Only "Private Funds"(Mandatory Surcharges on National Parks Admissions Fee)


    WASHINGTON (August 19, 2009) — Congressman Louis Capped (R-Ca.) today announced the introduction of his "National Parks Optional Handguns for Hikers Act of 2010," which is, he announced, "A good-faith compromise on the sensitive issue of carrying loaded handguns in national parks."


    In May, 2009, Congress enacted a new law that allows citizens to carry loaded handguns for self-defense in national parks, if they meet certain qualifications. The new law, which has engendered some controversy, takes effect on February, 22, 2010.


    Congressman Capped is a strong supporter of the new parks policy, thinks that more needs to be done. He explained, "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 fully respects all points of view on this sensitive subject."


    The bill would require the National Parks Service to add a $10 surcharge on every "America the Beautiful — National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass" purchased in the future, and to add a $3 surcharge to the cost of any daily pass to any national park. These surcharges will go exclusively into the "Handgun for Hikers Segregated Fund."


    The bill explicitly requires, "The Secretary of the Interior shall ensure that no Federal funds appropriated for the National Parks Services in the annual appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior shall be placed in the segregated fund."


    The 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.
    "Every purchaser of a national parks admission permit or pass will be required to pay the surcharges," Capped explained. "However, no park attendee is required to actually claim a handgun — claiming the benefit will be purely a matter of personal choice. Thus, my bill would enact a handgun-neutrality policy."


    Capped added, "Certainly, I know that there are some people who may object to even paying for handguns, and I respect their viewpoint — under my bill, such people have every right to avoid the national park system. After all, there are many fine private campgrounds and state parks. My bill allows these non-federal parks to set their own policies on handguns — the bill only addresses the national parks option."


    "No doubt there will be some critics of my bill who will claim that it is a scheme to provide government funding for handguns," Capped said. "Nothing could be further from the truth. My bill specifically prohibits any tax subsidies from going into the Handguns for Hikers Fund. The only funds used to purchase handguns will be strictly private funds. It is my hope that conscientious "factcheckers" in the news media will publicly rebuke any advocacy group that makes the patently false claim that my bill amounts to a plan for government funding of handguns."

  • noworsethanusual

    You’ve linked to a poll by Mark Mellman that was commissioned by an advocacy group. But the antis eventually got hold of the actual poll questions and they’ve pretty much discredited it — Mellman stacked the deck by deliberately mixing up contraceptives, treatment for miscarriages, and a couple of other issues, plus abortion, all in the same question. The polls that ask just about covering abortion get very different results. The politicians know this.

  • crowepps

    I am not a liberal as liberalism is a replacement theology for Christianity.

    lib·er·al (lbr-l, lbrl)
    a. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
    b. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.
    c. Of, relating to, or characteristic of liberalism.
    d. Liberal Of, designating, or characteristic of a political party founded on or associated with principles of social and political liberalism, especially in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States.

    If you believe that Christianity demands conformity, authoritarianism, rigid dogma, bigotry, the stifling of new ideas/progress and intolerance, you might try rereading the Gospels with a view to Christ’s actual words. Seems to me that those were exactly the things that He was trying to get his followers to abandon in favor of trust in God and love for their fellows.

  • crowepps

    Great parody —

  • hatmaker510

    Did someone say Republicans are NOT lying about reform? Oh yes they most certainly are! Death panels, rationing, government takeover, government-funded abortions, death books….Need I go on? Their sole purpose is to halt reform, hoping if President Obama can’t deliver reform, they will "break" him (& Democrats) politically. ("Break" is their word, not mine.) Are you hooked up directly to Rush & Fox (FAUX) news?  The  Republicans and Blue Dogs opposing reform and/or public option have received anywhere from $100K to over $2 million in campaign funds from…Guess who? The health insurance industry! This is FACT! That industry fears reform (w/ or w/o public option) because it would stop/limit their unrestrained profiteering at the expense of policy-holders (that’s US)!! The same industry compensating CEO’s into the BILLIONS annually! Again…FACT. The very same companies using scare tactics & job threats to force employees to oppose reform; they hand out false "talking points" with town-hall schedules. (Another pesky FACT) These are OUR health insurance companies who refuse claims & increase OUR costs w/o reason, only to increase their bottom line! Are you listening yet? People who lie have a reason, in this case it’s money, plain and simple. Please open your eyes, put aside your biases, stop repeating what what you’ve heard from Rush, Hannity et al.  Look it up for yourself.  Follow the money.  Most of all, find the common sense you’ve so clearly lost. 

  • paul-bradford

    You could also say that tax cuts facilitate abortion since the money that the government no longer takes from you can be used for anything you choose, including getting an abortion.  [Damn Republicans and their pro-abortion policies!]


    Obama isn’t using Health Care as a shield to extend abortion coverage nor would coverage for counseling for end-of-life options be a shield to talk people into dying early.  My understanding is that counseling helps people to value their life, not devalue it.  


    If you’re really Pro-Life you ought to support Health Care Reform.  More people with adequate health care means more people who have their right to life protected.


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice