Senate votes to fund abortion

The Senate has voted to fund abortion in its health care bill:

By a vote of 54-45, the Senate sidetracked an amendment by Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah that would ban any insurance plan getting taxpayer dollars from offering abortion coverage. The restrictions mirrored provisions in the House-passed health care bill.

The Senate bill currently allows insurance plans to cover abortions, but requires that they can only be paid for with private money. The legislation calls for insurance plans that would receive federal subsidies in a new insurance marketplace to strictly separate public funds from private dollars that would be used to pay for abortion.

“As our bill currently reads, no insurance plan in the new marketplace, whether private or public, would be allowed to use public funds for abortion,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Reid is lying. He is hoping that people are taken in by an accounting trick that pretends that the federal dollars are somehow different from the private ones. He may be right in hoping so; United Way has been playing this same trick successfully for years.

Here’s what is going on: Let’s suppose that WXYZ  is a charity that buys widgets for needy children. Widgets come in various colors, but some people disapprove of red widgets (let’s say they release lots of greenhouse gases). When WXYZ looks for funding, they promise to keep two separate accounts: Account A is unrestricted, and account B can be spent on anything but red-widgets. When fundraising among the anti-red community, WXYZ suggests contributing to account B. That way, WXYZ argues, you know that you’re not funding red widgets.

But it’s not true, because money in the two accounts are fungible. When I contribute money to account B, WXYZ can shift costs, freeing up funds in account A for red widgets. That is, contributing to account B allows WXYZ to spend more on red widgets from account A. All the separation of accounts accomplishes is to cap red-widget spending at the entire balance of account A (which is much higher than would ever be contemplated anyway).

United Way has been doing this for years. They allow you to designate that a contribution is not to be given to Planned Parenthood, but, as explained above, that designation has no effect whatsoever. When you contribute to United Way, you are funding abortion.

Now the Senate wants to employ the same fiction. Private money goes into account A, and government subsidies go into account B. Sure, account B cannot be spent on abortion directly, but every dollar in account B frees up a dollar in account A to be spent on abortion.

So the Senate bill would fund abortion.

In fact, it’s worse than this. A similar argument to the one we make about separate accounts for a single plan could be made about separate plans offered by the same insurer. The insurer could shift costs from one plan to another. (Hospitals already do this, shifting costs from Medicare patients to others.) If the insurer is for-profit, we can probably rely on the profit motive to keep them from doing so; any plan that can’t stand on its own would be cut. But most health insurers are non-profit, and they very well might decide to shift costs from a plan that supports abortion to another government-subsidized plan that does not.

The point is this: the Stupak amendment is already a compromise position. Stupak rules out the utterly transparent accounting fiction described above, but it still allows a company that accepts subsidies to offer other plans that cover abortion, even though the company might shift costs between them. The robust pro-life position would prohibit subsidies to any insurer that covers abortion in any of its plans.

Will people be fooled by Reid’s chicanery? The pro-life movement tends to be pretty savvy to these tricks, so I’m hopeful they won’t. On the other hand, the United Way example suggest that many might well be taken in.

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