Communications Department

Evansville Courier-Press: Ellsworth Angers Abortion Foes

Nov 6, 2009 | In the News

Evansville, Indiana, Courier-Press
November 6, 2009
Page 1A

Ellsworth angers abortion foes | POLL

Article Highlights

  • An amendment by Rep. Brad Ellsworth to the health care reform bill has sparked a furious backlash among national, state and local anti-abortion groups
“None of us really objected to the Ellsworth language. In fact, we think he did a good job.” — Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus and chairwoman of the House Rules Committee

Health care amendment centers on use of federal funds

By Thomas B. Langhorne

Friday, November 6, 2009

Eighth District U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., might have expected that his amendment to the health care reform bill, which he says will ensure no federal funds are used to provide elective abortions, would be opposed by Planned Parenthood.The abortion rights group weighed in with a statement of opposition on Tuesday.

But the Ellsworth amendment, which House leaders have said they may incorporate into the bill, also has sparked a furious backlash among national, state and local anti-abortion groups who typically support Ellsworth.

Pitted against the Ellsworth amendment are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Right to Life Committee, Indiana Right to Life and Vanderburgh County Right to Life.

“It was a bayonet in the back from someone who said he was on our side,” said Doug Johnson, Washington, D.C.-based legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee.

“The pro-abortion side is using Ellsworth’s phony language to undercut the real pro-life amendment, which is Congressman Bart Stupak’s amendment. Mr. Ellsworth is allowing himself to be used to, perhaps, score brownie points with House Democratic leaders.”

Ellsworth spokeswoman Liz Farrar provided a written statement from Ellsworth:

“As I have said repeatedly, I will not support a bill that I believe would result in federal tax dollars being used to pay for abortions, and, with the help of pro-life constituents, I am leading the effort to protect federal tax dollars and provide pro-life insurance options to Americans,” it said.

Farrar said Ellsworth’s amendment could change.

Private contractors

The crux of the Right to Life case against the Ellsworth amendment is that it does not strike what Johnson calls “trump-all” language in the health care reform bill that states, “Nothing in this Act shall be construed as preventing the public health insurance option from providing for or prohibiting coverage of services described in paragraph (4)(A).”

The services described in paragraph (4)(A) are “abortions for which the expenditure of federal funds appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services is not permitted.”

That means elective abortions, which are not funded under Medicaid because that program is funded through the annual Health and Human Services appropriations bill.

But Farrar pointed to a Congressional Research Service report that says Ellsworth’s plan “would seem to broaden (bill language) to ensure that no federal funds are used to pay for elective abortions by health benefits plans participating in the Exchange.”

“You don’t have to remove (the ‘nothing shall be construed’ language) as long as our language ensures federal funds cannot be used to provide abortion,” she said.

The Congressional Research Service report did not address that question.

The Ellsworth amendment creates a procedure by which Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius must hire private contractors to segregate premiums paid for elective abortions under the public health insurance option from other amounts paid to the government.

With the premiums, the contractor would pay the abortion provider that was billing the public plan.

“It’s not government funds that are coming into that contractor,” Farrar said.

“It’s a private individual that’s sending it to this private company that is then reimbursing private doctors, private hospitals, for procedures. So it never comes into the treasury. It’s not public funds.”

Johnson called that “a money-laundering scam.”

“Do you suppose that if the CIA collected money from citizens and used it to hire private mercenaries to engage in covert missions, Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi would agree that this was ‘private’ activity rather than federal government activity?” he said.

“We don’t care what they call the funds or who they hire to collect the funds or write the checks. If the federal government plan pays for abortions, that is federal funding of abortion.”

Stupak’s amendment

Stupak, a Michigan Democrat and co-chairman of the Congressional Right to Life Caucus to which Ellsworth belongs, seeks to forbid a public insurance option from covering elective abortions and subsidies for private plans that cover elective abortions.

The Stupak amendment would strike the bill’s “Nothing in this Act shall be construed” language.

But House leaders will not allow a floor vote on Stupak’s amendment, so he has threatened to line up at least 40 anti-abortion Democrats to vote against the rule governing debate on the bill.

With Republican votes, that would be enough to defeat the rule — meaning the health care reform bill could not go to the floor for a vote and Democratic leaders presumably would have to negotiate with Stupak.

Instead of rallying anti-abortion Democrats behind Stupak’s plan, Ellsworth began circulating versions of his own amendment last week. Farrar said Ellsworth isn’t trying to undercut Stupak but intends to offer an alternative that might attract more support.

House Rules Committee Chairwoman Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said Wednesday that Ellsworth’s language would be incorporated into the House health care reform bill in the rule, but on Thursday other House leaders stopped short of making a commitment.

Congressional strategy

Kasey Hunt, a reporter for Congress Daily AM, a subscription-only publication of National Journal magazine, said House leaders view Ellsworth’s amendment as a compromise that could peel away enough Democratic support from Stupak’s amendment to negate Stupak’s threat.

“They’re trying to get all the centrists and pro-life Democrats who want to vote for the health care reform bill to sign onto something that is (a compromise),” Hunt said.

Stupak was unavailable to comment, but his spokeswoman, Michelle Begnoche, said he has reviewed the Ellsworth amendment.

“(Stupak) is continuing to hold firm on his amendment,” Begnoche said.

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