Pro-Life Group Bashes Projo

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

 

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A pro-life group is blasting the Providence Journal for a Sunday news report that suggested that controversy over abortion is what derailed key health care reform legislation in the General Assembly.

At issue is a bill that would have created a state health insurance exchange—sort of an online portal where individual and business customers could buy health insurance subsidized by the federal government. The Senate passed the bill—but with an amendment that bars any plans receiving any federal or state funds from covering abortion. That amendment reportedly caused the bill to stall in the House.

New controversy—restriction on private funding for abortions

The Journal reported that the amendment actually goes further than the restriction on public funds. It quoted several health care and civil rights advocates who said it would also impose limitations on the use of private funds.

Barth Bracy, the executive director of the Rhode Island Right to Life Committee, blasted the news story as “grossly inaccurate reporting.”

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But technically it is true that the law also restricts private funds. What the Journal did not mention is that the legislation would have allowed private insurers to cover abortion as a rider—separate from the plans they offered on the health exchange. Similar provisions in other states have stoked worries among pro-choice advocates that the complications of creating a separate rider for abortion will cause many insurers to not offer them, as the Wall Street Journal has reported. (Click here to read the text of the proposed Rhode Island law.)

Goes far beyond federal law?

Bracy also took exception to the suggestion that the proposed state law “goes significantly beyond federal law.”

In one key aspect it in fact does. The federal health care law prevents the use of any federal funds for abortions. So a health insurance plan that receives some federal funding could still cover abortion as long as an insurer can show that the federal money did not directly pay for the abortion coverage.

The proposed Rhode Island law would have flat-out banned all health care plans receiving public funds from covering abortions. That is more restrictive that the federal ban.

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While the state ban would have been tougher than the federal ban, it did not go beyond what the federal law allows it to do, Bracy said. He pointed out that the federal health care law states that a “State may elect to prohibit abortion coverage in qualified health plans.”

“If the federal act expressly invites states to opt-out of abortion coverage, it is absurd to claim that an opt-out provision goes beyond the federal act,” Bracy said.

Did abortion kill health care bill?

Much of this may seem like legal hair-splitting, but a bigger issue lurks behind the debate: Did opposition to abortion rights block health care reform in Rhode Island?

The Rhode Island Right to Life Committee is adamant that it did not. In a news release the committee blames the House, not the Senate, for the failure of the legislation.

“The effect of [the Providence Journal’s] multiple inaccuracies,” Bracy said, “is to obscure the fact that this has nothing whatsoever to do with a woman’s right to choose an abortion and pay for it with her own private funds. Simply, this is about whether health care reform will require the good citizens of Rhode Island to subsidize other people’s elective abortions.”

But others remain convinced otherwise. Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts’ office released a report Monday morning stating that the “General Assembly [was] unable to reach agreement on language that preserves the restriction on the use of public funds without imposing new restrictions on private insurance purchasers using their own funds.”

The Providence Journal isn’t budging either. “We stand by the accuracy of Sunday’s story and have no further comment,” the paper said in a statement released by Felice Freyer, the Medical Writer for the Journal and author of the report.

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