The Stupid Stupak Amendment

Hey, did you guys know there was a health care bill being considered?

Here at NPI, we’ve only touched on this issue in passing. We don’t want to pretend we know more than we do about something as important as this.

With that said, there seems to be an underlying hypocrisy in the recent discussion of the Stupak Amendment. This amendment was added onto the version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month, and it essentially prevents any federally funded or subsidized health insurance plan from covering abortions. This amendment was important in getting 64 of the more moderate Democrats in the House to vote for the bill. On the other hand, many others view the Stupak Amendment as catastrophic, and some Democratic Senators are hoping to have the amendment stripped.

The point of this amendment is to prevent abortions from being paid for by tax-payers, presumably since many tax-payers are anti-abortion rights.* However, those opposing this amendment are rightly saying that it has the potential to undermine abortion access. A key portion of the bill is Obama’s “exchange,” in which consumers can pool together to get cheaper rates from insurance providers. Those who still cannot afford a policy can get “affordability credits” (read: subsidies) from the government to help pay for them. If none of the affordability credits can go to plans covering abortion, then fewer people will be able to afford those plans and, conceivably, insurance companies will start dropping those policies from the exchange. Jeffrey Toobin outlined how the amendment seeks to marginalize abortion in The New Yorker.

*Can we stop using the Orwellian terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life”? I am in favor of both life and choice, but that has nothing to do with my feelings about abortion.

So, people are upset because even a relatively minor point of government policy can ripple throughout the marketplace. This is, essentially, why conservatives objected to health care reform in the first place. Plenty of this objection was overstated, with claims about death panels and Obama’s plans for a socialist takeover, making the opposition look stupid. But wasn’t the conservative position, stated rationally, that using government funds to pay for insurance would adversely affect the insurance market?

That’s exactly what’s happening here. Since a sizable minority doesn’t want to pay for a particular medical procedure, it is in danger of being totally excised from the marketplace, or exchange. In other words, expanding the pool of the insured will limit the options of those buying insurance.

Liberals do not want to make this argument, because most of the people offended by the Stupak Amendment want the legislation to pass. They just think it shouldn’t have to cater to the anti-abortion crowd. This is naïve at best and close-minded at worst. Abortion has long been considered an issue of pluralism, in which the government accepted the views of a large minority and does not coerce them into violating their beliefs. Things like conscience clauses and the Hyde Amendment have been around since Roe v. Wade for this reason. The Stupak Amendment is hardly unprecedented.

Of course, you can still make a very sensible argument for why the Stupak Amendment is a terrible idea. But it’s hypocritical for people to dismiss the opponents of health care reform who claim that it will lead to certain kinds of coverage being dropped, and then get offended when exactly that happens. It’s also hypocritical for people to compare government interference in the health insurance market with the worst excesses of the French Revolution to advocate and support even more interference in that market.

One response to this post.

  1. […] a few exceptions, we’ve more or less stayed neutral on this health care disaster. Well,  Atul Gawande thinks […]


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