Exploiting the Healthcare Debate to Restrict Abortion

Frances Kissling

Faith groups now want to expand the Hyde Amendment so that everyone is denied coverage for abortion care even with private insurance, while the same groups are ignoring the exclusion of undocumented workers.

This article originally appeared on Salon.com.

It was discouraging to hear Barack Obama, the man I supported for
president, announce so resolutely during his speech to Congress last
week that "under our [healthcare] plan no federal dollars will be used
to fund abortion." It was infuriating, however, that before the morning
cock could crow following the speech Jim Wallis of the antiabortion
organization Sojourners was claiming that the president’s remarks on
abortion were just what "a broad coalition of the faith community had
asked for — no federal funding for abortions."

I had been
prepared for Obama to close the door on a healthcare reform package
that would include funding abortions for women who rely on Medicaid for
health coverage. Low-income women already lost that right 30 years ago
when the Supreme Court upheld the Hyde Amendment. I believe a
principled compromise to maintain the status quo on abortion is
justified if it gets us better healthcare for millions of men and women
and security from the rapaciousness of the insurance industry. And no
pro-choice organization wants to bear the responsibility for healthcare
reform failing. And so, tacitly, pro-choice leaders have basically
accepted that the Hyde Amendment restrictions, as well as those that
deny federal workers, women in the military and women who get
healthcare on Indian reservations funding for abortion, would be
reflected in the healthcare package.

Unfortunately, the good will
shown by the pro-choice community has not been met with a good-faith
effort by Wallis and his friends. They now hope to use the president’s
promise as a way to press for further restrictions on abortion coverage
in the final healthcare legislation. As one moderate pro-life leader
told me, "It is going to be a long fall." All the talk about finding
common ground on abortion and the emergence of moderate pro-lifers is
floundering as Wallis and a few others prepare to push Congress and the
White House for further concessions. "[The president’s] commitment to
these principles," said Wallis, "means we can now work together to make
sure that they are consistently and diligently applied to any final
healthcare legislation." For Wallis, that means that "no person should
be forced to pay for someone else’s abortion and that public funds
cannot be used to pay for elective abortions."

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Before the congressional recess, the moderate pro-lifers and
pro-choice leaders had pretty much agreed that both sides would not
seek provisions in healthcare reform that would change the status quo.
Rep Lois Capps, D-Calif., codified that agreement in an amendment to
the House bill. The Capps Amendment gave those opposed to abortion both
the guarantee they wanted that providers would have adequate conscience
protection against having to provide abortions and a prohibition on the
use of federal funds to pay for abortions in accordance with Hyde and
other current federal law. It made no change in the ability of private
insurance plans to decide whether or not to cover abortions, but
prohibited private plans from using federal subsidy dollars for
abortions. It provides that every state have at least one plan that
offers abortion coverage and one that does not, so that someone really
opposed to abortion can buy a plan that does not cover that service.

This,
it now seems, is not enough for Wallis and company. They now want to be
sure that if an anti-choice person chooses a plan that does cover
abortion, the minuscule part of his premium that is allocated to
abortion coverage for all subscribers is not used for abortion. Stephen
Schenk, a moderate pro-life Catholic and a professor at Catholic
University, wants healthcare reform to extend the Hyde Amendment beyond
those groups that are already denied coverage to everyone. "If we are
stuck with the Capps Amendment," he says, "we are going to have
problems." Chris Korzen of Catholics United, a small Catholic advocacy
group that claims to be progressive, is worried that the public option
plan is going to offer abortion coverage. Although it will be funded
through premiums and there will be at least one private plan in the
"exchange" that those opposed to abortion can buy, Korzen is now poised
to oppose abortion coverage in the plan most designed to help
low-income people.

Enough already! This is not an attempt to
achieve common ground and use common sense. This is not that different
from the hard-line Catholic bishops and Family Research Council effort
to use public policy and healthcare reform to make abortion less
available than it already is and stigmatize every woman who even
contemplates it. And frankly, while Christian progressives like Korzen
and Wallis are spending all their time worrying about abortion, they’re
ignoring the major gap in all the plans — the exclusion of
undocumented workers living in the U.S. I always thought faith-inspired
social justice advocates were the ones I could count on to go out on a
limb for what is right, even if it gives the president they helped
elect a hard time. I guess I was wrong.

The irony of all this is that Wallis and Korzen don’t represent the
majority views of either mainline or progressive religion on abortion.
How long the mainline pro-choice faith community will allow Wallis and
a few small groups of progressive Catholics to use healthcare reform to
push for further restrictions on abortion remains to be seen. For
Wallis and others to assert that denying poor women the same access to
abortion as other women is moral and "what a broad coalition of the
faith community had asked for" is as dishonest as claiming, like Joe
"You Lie" Wilson, that the healthcare reform plans are going to provide
coverage to undocumented workers.

The broad coalition Wallis
refers to is, in fact, a specific group that is largely in favor of
federal funding for abortion. All the members of the group have done is
to put that support on the back burner in hopes of getting healthcare
reform passed. Organized under the umbrella name "40 Days for
Healthcare Reform," the coalition draws on about 25 denominations and
independent interfaith groups for various actions. Many of these groups
are on record as supporting public funding for abortion and have worked
to overturn the Hyde Amendment. They include the Religious Action
Center of Reform Judaism, the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal
Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association, Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church USA,
Faith in Public Life, and the Disciples of Christ. Some religious
groups that are not part of the 40 Days campaign are also on record as
supporting Medicaid funding for abortion. The National Coalition of
American Nuns has no position on abortion itself but has since 1976
supported providing federal funds for poor women’s abortions, asserting
that it would be discriminatory to coerce poor women into continuing
pregnancies by denying them the same right to decide as women who can
afford to pay for their own abortions.

So eager are Wallis and
his antiabortion friends to convince the media and policymakers that
progressive religion is antiabortion that they have stacked the deck
and excluded some pro-choice organizations from the effort to pass
healthcare reform. The Web site for the 40 Days campaign sets forward
criteria for membership that exclude religious groups working on
"single issues" — code for abortion. For example, the Religious
Coalition for Reproductive Choice was told that if it sent in a
sponsorship fee for one of the many actions, its check would be
returned. The group, founded by the Women’s Division of the United
Methodist Church, had sent a letter to members of Congress strongly
supportive of federal funding for poor women’s abortions in healthcare
reform. The letter is signed by religious leaders like the deans of the
Howard University and Episcopal divinity schools, as well as Nancy
Ratzen, president of the National Council of Jewish Women and a member
of Obama’s faith-based advisory council.

Wallis and the rest need
to be called to accountability for their decision to push an
antiabortion agenda in the midst of what was meant to be an effort to
reform healthcare. Otherwise, we will see the moral commitment most
mainline and progressive religious groups have to respecting the
consciences of poor and low-income women deeply compromised. Abortion
is not going to sink healthcare reform, but poor faith leadership can
sink the opportunity of poor women for a decent life.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

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