How Abortion Is Being Used as a Ruse to Attack Health Care Writ Large

States are banning private citizens from using their own money to buy insurance from private insurers if a plan covers abortion. It's part of a larger strategy by anti-Obamacare forces to insert abortion into the debate as often as possible with the goal of stigmatizing health-care reform and killing the Affordable Care Act.

While the controversial new law, which went into effect Thursday, allows insurance companies to offer abortion coverage as an optional rider, it turns out that no companies will offer those riders on the individual market. Health insurance via Shutterstock

Those of us who were around in 2010 when Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) nearly derailed the Affordable Care Act with his ill-informed demagoguery about abortion largely thought President Obama put the abortion scare-mongering to bed by signing an executive order banning both federal funding and tax credits from being used to fund abortion. As one of those people, I have to apologize for my optimism. I should have realized at the time that the A-word is too seductive of a rhetorical weapon for conservatives to abandon just because their “principled” objection to funding it has been answered. As long as abortion can be used as a cudgel against the Affordable Care Act, then, no matter how thin or nonexistent the “justification,” use it they will.

The latest trend is for Republicans in state governments to try to keep you from using your own money to buy your own private insurance, if that insurance plan covers abortion. Emphasis added, because as much as the word “government” is being thrown around, that is what is happening in this move by states to ban the health insurance exchanges from featuring plans that have abortion coverage. Twenty-three states already ban people from using their own private money to pay for insurance coverage offered by non-government entities that just happen to sell their plans through the health insurance exchanges. Now Michigan anti-choicers are so eager to make their state the 24th that they’re going around the Republican governor to get that done.

As explained by ThinkProgress:

They have been circulating a petition to provoke a “citizen-initiated” vote on the issue, and they submitted the necessary signatures on Friday to do so. If state lawmakers approve the measure, it will immediately become law without Snyder’s signature. And if lawmakers reject it, it’s not dead yet — it will be placed on the 2014 ballot and put up for voters’ consideration.

Gov. Snyder vetoed the original bill because it basically bans private citizens from using their own funds to buy insurance plans that cover a legal procedure. Let’s be crystal clear about this: When you buy insurance through the health insurance exchange, it’s the same kind of insurance plan you get through work or just buying it on your own. You are privately contracting with a business, and the government is merely facilitating the transaction. This law would be similar to a law banning people from driving to abortion clinics because the public roads facilitate the journey. (Not that I would put that past anti-choice activists as a tactic.) The ostensible reason for banning public funds from being used to pay for abortion is already illogical—since people who oppose war, for instance, still have to see their tax dollars go to it—but this isn’t even about that because tax dollars don’t pay for abortions except in the rarest circumstances. It’s about trying to force private citizens not to contract with private companies to do something legal.

Of course, anti-choice activists don’t want you to understand that aspect. They are hoping that voters see this as a ban on public funds being used for abortion, when in fact it’s a ban on private funds. They’re banking on the fact that there’s a lot of confusion about what the term “Obamacare” means. There’s a lot of confusion out there and it’s clear that most Americans don’t quite realize that, unless you’re on Medicaid or Medicare, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be getting government issued insurance. Right-wing media that talks about Obamacare as if it’s something akin to a national health service only confuses people more. It’s clear that people who are pushing for these bans just hope voters think this is about keeping abortion out of some “government” health care that doesn’t actually exist.

However, this is about more than just confusing average voters. A lot of the reason that conservative activists are casting around, looking for new ways to inject the A-word into the debate over health care is that they need to find a way to shut down objections to anti-Obamacare sentiment from a Christian perspective.

Basically, the Christian right that is so good at marshalling very religious people to support conservative policies is hitting a major point of cognitive dissonance when it comes to the Affordable Care Act. Both evangelical Christians and Catholics alike ostensibly believe that caring for the poor and the sick is important, and to be blunt, Obamacare is strictly about both those things. The most important aspects of the law address two very important things: Making sure everyone has access to health care, and making sure that sick people do not lose coverage. The Jesus of the Bible would be all about this law. When you actually look at its goals, the word “Christian ethics” leaps to mind. Indeed, liberal pundit and born-again Christian Ed Schultz directly said that anyone who doesn’t support this law is not a real Christian, creating all sorts of consternation on the Christian right.

That’s why tying the word “abortion” to health-care reform is so critical for the right: It gives Christian conservatives cover to oppose this law without being sucked into a debate about why they’re opposed to helping the poor and the sick and people in need. When making the “Christian case” for opposition to Obamacare, conservative pundits lean heavily on the abortion thing. Jeffery Kuhner, writing for the Washington Times, said Christians must oppose Obamacare because it “enables U.S. taxpayer funds to pay for abortions.” It was an outright lie, but you can see why he told it. Trying to make the case against health care for the poor is a tough sell to the supposed followers of Jesus. Abortion is all they have.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also tried a similar tactic by using contraception benefits as cover to encourage the government to shut down rather than fund the Affordable Care Act. So much for feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Someone out there is having sex!

While I have no doubt that those pushing these bans on the purchase of private insurance plans hope they will prevent some women from getting safe, legal abortions, this also must be understood as a disingenuous political ploy to attack Obamacare. Conservatives are “borrowing” the stigma of abortion and of female sexuality generally to stigmatize and demonize the Affordable Care Act. Laws like this are about more than abortion, but are an overall attempt to undermine access to health care generally, which means they’re an attack on your insulin shots, your heart surgery, your child’s annual check-up, you name it. It may get tagged as a reproductive rights story, but it’s really a story about access to affordable care for everyone.