OP-ED

Voters Want Abortion-Neutral Health Care Reform

Mark-Mellman-resized A few months ago, I warned that some folks were attempting to misuse healthcare reform to restrict access to abortion. They have come a long way since then, endangering the vital struggle for healthcare — indeed, torpedoing reform is a key goal for many involved in this effort.

Americans oppose using abortion as a means of derailing health care reform and oppose using health care reform as a means of restricting abortion. The more voters find out about what is happening on Capitol Hill with respect to this issue, the angrier they are getting, because language inserted in the House bill will take away coverage for abortion that tens of millions of women already have.

Taking away existing coverage not only violates the public will, but also does fundamental violence to Democrats’ explicit promise that if you like what you have, you will be able to keep it.

In a national survey we conducted for the Women Donors Network, nearly half (47 percent) of the electorate said, “Political differences should not prevent us from moving forward on an otherwise good health care reform plan.” Another 22 percent believe that health care reform should not move forward unless “a woman’s right to choose an abortion is protected.” Only a 26 percent minority believe that health care reform should not move forward unless “we are certain that government money will not be used for abortion.”

Voters clearly oppose the restrictions embodied in the House bill, rejecting even their underlying premise. By over a 20-point margin, voters believe that those who receive partial subsidies should be able to buy plans that cover abortion. By two-to-one, voters would feel less favorably toward a member of Congress who voted to prohibit subsidy recipients from purchasing an insurance policy with abortion coverage.

Indeed, voters’ antipathy to placing abortion restrictions in health care reform is so strong that their inclusion leads voters to oppose reform itself. By a 16-point margin, voters would oppose a health reform plan that prevented private insurance plans from covering abortion.

Debate on the issue strongly favors opponents of abortion restrictions. We presented voters with an argument against allowing coverage of abortion focused around the view that “taxpayer money should not fund abortion.” Matched against an argument in support of covering abortion that suggested, “health care — not politics — should drive” these decisions, 59 percent subscribed to the pro-choice viewpoint and just 36 percent took the anti-choice position.

At a more fundamental level, voters simply do not want Congress making these decisions. Just 14 percent favor Congress and the president making coverage decisions with respect to abortion. Indeed, despite popular disdain for insurance companies, twice as many would prefer they decide whether to cover abortion instead of having politicians make that determination. A significant plurality (43 percent) support empowering an independent commission to make coverage decisions on abortion.

Americans do not want reform to be an excuse for tightening restrictions on abortion or for taking away health coverage millions already have. Nor do they want an abortion debate to stop reform. Voters want an abortion-neutral health care reform.

The way out of this conundrum is clear to voters, if not to legislators. A compromise offered by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) enjoyed majority support and was fully acceptable to the small minority that favors further restrictions on abortion. What opposition there was to the Capps compromise came primarily from pro-, not anti-choice voters. Nonetheless, the House swept it away in favor of language much more drastic and deeply unpopular.

The Capps language affords an opportunity to untie the Gordian knot in favor of the anti-choice forces, but does so in a way that is at least minimally acceptable to the pro-choice majority.

Mark Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the majority leaders of both the House and Senate. This column first appeared in The Hill newspaper. Mellman writes a regular column for The Hill.

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9 replies »

  1. I agree that abortion-neutral reform is important, if for no other reason than that abortion is not one of the many things that burdens and adds cost and inefficiency to our existing system. Comprehensive reform should be focused on improving access to and quality of care for all Americans, streamlining systems and reducing the overall cost of delivering healthcare. Whether abortions are a covered service is a question of medical decision making that has always been left to the department of Health and Human Services, and I think they’ve done a good job managing that responsibility thus far. Why, other than politics and personal agenda, should this change? How does this debate or the potential resolutions and ammendments that will bounce through cross-committee in the weeks ahead add value to healthcare reform? Simply stated, it doesn’t. It distracts from meaningful change. It distracts from glaring differences between the House and Senate Leadership Bills that deserve debate for resolution. It distracts from true value-add work that could be done on this landmark legislation. I appreciate that this legislation, while landmark and epic, is a stepping stone. We will not cure all that ails us this time. But it is progress. It is a step toward improving quality of life in this country. Let’s not lose sight of the benefits of the whole for the restriction of the few.

  2. Words mean different things to different people. While I do not wish to detract anything from those that crafted the language of the constitution, let’s remember that the document had to be approved by many delegates and ratified by all states. What these people read into the constitution text is as important as Madison’s intent when he put pen to paper.
    It seems that even during the founders’ times there were different opinions regarding the meaning of some words, like “general welfare”. While Madison vetoed the Bonus Bill, Jefferson carefully funded the Cumberland Road and went ahead and purchased a whole other country, and Hamilton was of the opinion that “general welfare” is pretty much what most liberals today think it is and what the Supreme Court keeps reaffirming it is.
    I agree that the basic principles embodied in the constitution are timeless, but in order to remain so the meaning of words, as well as the actual enumerations, must be expanded to fit new realities.
    What was meant by “general welfare” back then is only a subset of what “general welfare” means today, and for that matter, what was meant by “people” in 1787 is also only a subset of what is meant by “people” today.

  3. Words mean things. By constantly and consistently changing their meanings, you create chaos out of order. Usually when someone quotes the Constitution as a “Living Document”, what they really mean is that they consider the ideas embodied in that document to be old and archaic.
    Nothing could be further from the truth. The Founding Fathers considered and studied the governments that have went before, and crafted a balance. The wisdom that is emplaced in the Constitution is timeless and usually far beyond the philosophy that 99.5% of today’s politicians can muster.
    They were imperfect however. They also understood their imperfections. You can tell from Madison’s defense of the wording of the enumerated powers of the Congress. He erroneously argued that the wording was sufficient to mark the boundaries. Little did he know that there would come a generation who would actually entertain a debate that starts with “It all depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
    I agree that the Constitution is a living document, if you consider the meaning to be fixed by the wording, with the ability to amend IAW the rules set forth. If your definition of a “Living Document” is that the text can be reevaluated and redefined by such trickery as Slick Willie tried, then you are not only factually wrong, but you are morally wrong.
    The scene of Nancy Pelosi batting her eyes and flatly stating “Are you serious?” when asked about constitutionality is quite surreal, and very telling of the attitude of our government today. That attitude must be changed. The failure on that score places our Republic in grave danger.

  4. Margalit,
    The Constitution may be amended by amending it. Because the founders were not ignorant, they built into the document the method of changing it, and it is not by congress passing laws. If they hadn’t defined the method of amendment, it would be of no use at all, the Supreme Court would have no function, and we’d all be in a new civil war by now.
    “The tyranny of the dead” is another way of saying “a country of laws, not of men.” That never looks pure or clean in practice, but it is all that stands between us and blood in the streets.
    This is not drama-talk, just history. It has always been true.

  5. Constitution is above all, and the creators know it very well what should be included in the law and what not because they do a thorough study of even small issues, so all must try to respect the constitution.

  6. The Constitution was created as a living document and it contains, from its creation, the mechanism by which it is to be altered. The founders understood that and amended it on a regular basis as times changed and need arose.
    Treating it as a final decree on how government should function regardless of an ever changing reality was not the original intent, and one can (and did) argue that this would be a peculiar sort of tyranny of the dead over the living.
    Philosophy and logic are probably as popular amongst the moneyed and educated elite today, as they were during the founders’ times. There were no ignorant paupers amongst the signers of the Constitution.

  7. Populism can create a tyranny just as evil and pervasive as that produced by elitism. Guess which one is producing this evil tyranny? War and abortion are not equivalent, neither are the death penalty and abortion.
    Tax dollars should not be used to enrich the rich nor the poor.
    I guess that philosophy and logic are not as popular as they once were.
    The only purpose for government are those things that are SPECIFICALLY outlined in the Constitution as interpreted by the intentions of the Founders. We’ve gone way beyond the pale on that score every since FDR.
    There may come a day, when the tyranny that Jimmy proposes, will try to force me to pay to kill a child in her mother’s womb. That is as repugnant to me as my participation in that murder would be.
    Reform is supposed to make things simpler and better. What has been proposed is not reform. It is nothing but power-brokering and deal making. The politicians and the elites live for this sort of thing. That’s why it is time for the Citizen-Representative to rise. Watch for it this coming fall.

  8. Pucca is why policy should not be driven by polls.
    Actually, the entire health care debate is why policy should not be driven by polls.
    So tax payer dollars can be used for war, but not abortion?
    Taxpayer dollars can be used for the death penalty but not abortion?
    Tax payer dollars can be used to enrich the rich, but to empower the poor?
    Tax payer dollars can be used to find cures for disease, but not to cure the (uninsured) diseased?
    Where do you draw the line on what politicians decide should be covered under health reform?
    There is only one thing that’s worse than a insurance company bureaucrat getting between a patient and their doctor, and that’s when a politician steps into that role?
    And even worse is when a politician steps between a woman and her God.

  9. You need to update your polling and focus on the issues with the Senate Bill. The independent Quinnipiac University poll (http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x1295.xml?ReleaseID=1408 ) finds that voters oppose 72 – 23% using any public money in the health care overhaul to pay for abortions. Even among democrats, there is opposition to allowing abortions to be paid for by public funds by the health care reform bill by 54 to 38%. Independents are 74 to 23% against. This has nothing to do with choice — it is whether taxpayer dollars should be used to fund abortion.

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