Why won't the media report abortion funding issue accurately?

››› ››› CHRISTINE SCHWEN

Media reports have repeatedly clouded the health care reform debate by uncritically reporting on false claims that the Senate health care bill provides federal funding for abortion beyond the limited cases allowed by current law: rape, incest, and conditions that endanger the life of the pregnant woman.

Senate bill does not allow federal funding for abortion in cases other than rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother

Senate bill forbids use of federal subsidies for abortion services except in cases allowed by the Hyde amendment. The health care reform bill passed by the Senate states that if a "qualified health plan" offered under the health insurance exchange provides coverage of abortion services for which public funding is banned, "the issuer of the plan shall not use any amount attributable" to the federal subsidies created under the bill "for purposes of paying for such services." Public funding is currently banned by the Hyde amendment for all abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the pregnant woman is in danger.

Senate bill requires insurance plans that cover abortion to segregate funds to ensure that federal funds are not used to pay for abortions. The Senate bill requires issuers to "collect from each enrollee" in plans that cover abortions a "separate payment" for "an amount equal to the actuarial value of the coverage of" abortion services. All such funds are deposited into a separate account used by the issuer to pay for abortion services; federal funds and the remaining premium payments are used to pay for all other services. Additionally, as Slate.com's Timothy Noah noted, the Senate bill requires that "every insurance exchange must offer at least one abortion-free health plan," so people who do not want to pay the "fee" "can simply choose a different health plan offered through the exchange, one that doesn't cover abortions."

Current law permits abortion coverage through Medicaid so long as funds are segregated. According to a November 1, 2009, study by the Guttmacher Institute, 17 states provide coverage under Medicaid for "all or most medically necessary abortions," not just abortions in cases of life endangerment, rape, and incest. Those states "us[e] their own funds" -- not federal funds -- "to pay" for the procedures. Therefore, in 17 states, Medicaid, a federally subsidized health care program, covers abortions in circumstances in which federal money is prohibited from being spent on abortion.

ABC World News "Truth Squad": "[T]he bill makes it clear there can be no federal money for abortion." On March 4, The ABC World News "Truth Squad" investigated Stupak's claim that "the federal government will directly subsidize abortions" in the Senate bill and found "the bill makes it clear there can be no federal money for abortion."

Mainstream media fail to report fact that bill bans federal funding for most abortions

Wash. Post reports: "Antiabortion Democrats say it would permit federal funding for abortion." A March 16 Washington Post article reported that "House leaders have worked for days to round up support for the legislation, but the Senate measure has drawn fierce opposition from a broad spectrum of members. Antiabortion Democrats say it would permit federal funding for abortion, liberals oppose its tax on high-cost insurance plans, and Republicans say the measure overreaches and is too expensive." However the Post article did not note that the bill's abortion restrictions are consistent with the current law, which forbids federal funding for abortion in most cases.

AP: Some Dems "won't support the legislation without a prohibition on paying for abortions with federal money." On March 11, The Associated Press reported that a "dozen socially conservative Democrats say they won't support the legislation without a prohibition on paying for abortions with federal money. [Rep. Bart] Stupak [D-PA] wrote a provision to their liking for a House bill approved last November, but the Senate replaced it with wording he considers unacceptable." However, the AP did not note that the Senate bill does not allow federal funding for abortion.

NPR cast debate as he-said, she-said without reporting that Senate bill doesn't allow for federal funding of abortion beyond current law. In a March 12 All Things Considered story headlined, "Abortion Language Still Sticking Point For Health Bill," NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner reported on Stupak's claim that the Senate bill uses federal tax subsidies for abortion coverage, followed by Rep. Jan Schakowsky's (D-IL) statement that "[i]t does not":

Abortion opponents, led in the House by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., say the Senate bill would loosen current restrictions on abortion funding. He cites specific language on specific pages, "which basically says that your federal tax subsidies can be used to pay for abortion coverage. That's contrary to current federal law."

For example, Stupak says, the language gives federal officials discretion to allow abortion funding in the future. And Stupak says he has as many as a dozen other Democrats who oppose abortion-rights who won't vote for the Senate bill unless their concerns are addressed.

But abortion-rights supporters, like Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., say Stupak's interpretation is simply wrong.

"I don't know why he persists in saying that somehow the Senate bill allows for federal funding of abortion," Schakowsky says. "It does not."

However, Rovner did not report that Schakowsky was correct in stating that the Senate bill "does not" allow for federal funding of abortion, except in cases allowed by current law.

NY Times blog uncriticially reported Stupak's suggestion that the Senate bill does not "keep current law." In a post on The New York Times' Prescriptions blog, David Herszenhorn reported Stupak's suggestion that the Senate bill does not keep current law, writing: "Mr. Stupak said he would continue to fight for tighter abortion restrictions in the health insurance legislation." Herszenhorn then quoted Stupak saying: "My intent is not to hold up this legislation. ... My intent is to keep current law. Eight different pieces of legislation currently say no public funding for abortion. That's all we're saying. No public funding for abortion." However Herszenhorn did not note that the Senate bill does indeed maintain current law.

NBC's Gregory falsely suggested "there's ... federal money paying for abortions." On the March 7 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, host David Gregory aired video of Stupak stating that the Senate bill "says you must offer insurance policies that will be paid for by the federal government that covers abortion." Gregory then asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: "Will you make the fix that he's talking about so there is no federal money paying for abortions?" As Sebelius noted, "there is no federal money paying for abortions."

Conservative media have repeatedly advanced falsehood about federal funding for abortion

Fox's Cameron: Senate health bill "does not contain any legislative ban on using tax dollars for abortion services." On the March 5 edition of Fox News' Special Report -- one of Fox's self-described "news programs" -- Cameron falsely asserted that the Senate bill "does not contain any legislative ban on using tax dollars for abortion services." He went on say that some Democrats "oppose the Senate bill because it lacks a ban on tax dollars for abortion services."

Van Susteren let McCain falsely claim that "federal funding would be involved in performing of abortions." On her March 5 Fox News show, Greta Van Susteren let Sen. John McCain falsely claim that passing the Senate bill "really would be the first time, since the Hyde amendment many years ago, that federal funding would be involved in the performing of abortions, and most Americans I think resoundingly reject that." Van Susteren also let Stupak falsely claim that his amendment does not go beyond the current law as defined in the Hyde amendment.

Rove: Senate bill contains "abortion funding language." In a March 11 Wall Street Journal editorial, Fox News contributor Karl Rove falsely suggested the Senate bill allows for federal funding of abortion. Rove wrote: "Pro-life House Democrats are deeply disturbed by the Senate abortion-funding language."

Fox's Doocy falsely suggested Senate bill allows for federal "funding of abortion." On the March 15 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy falsely suggested that the Senate health bill contains "language that does allow for" federal funding for abortion beyond what is currently allowed under the Hyde Amendment.

Fox News' Johnson: Senate health bill includes "federal funding of abortion." On the March 2 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News' Peter Johnson Jr. claimed the Senate health bill allows "federal funding of abortion.

Rush Limbaugh: Health care reform "hinges on" deciding by Easter whether U.S. "will pay for the killing of babies." Limbaugh announced on his March 4 radio show that he found "some irony" in the idea that health care reform "all hinges on whether the federal government will pay for the killing of babies or not -- deciding that by Easter."

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