As thousands of pro-lifers marched through the nation's capital this January on the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 decision to legalize abortion, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill prohibiting the federal government's use of tax dollars to subsidize the practice.
The "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act," as its name suggests, was aimed at solving two problems highlighted last year by a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The report revealed, first of all, that at least 1,036 health plans offered through state/federal insurance exchanges created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare")—plans that are eligible for government subsidies—cover elective abortion.
"The GAO report put to rest any false notion that Obamacare subsidies do not fund abortion coverage," says Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, a pro-life think tank based in Washington, D.C.
The GAO report also suggests that many insurance companies withhold information from potential consumers about which plans cover abortion.
According to Section 1303 of the Affordable Care Act, insurers must collect at least $1 from each person buying plans on state exchanges, which will be used to cover elective abortions within the insurance pool, and that this surcharge must be collected through a "separate payment." However, a rule proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services last November claims that Obamacare "permits, but does not require" insurers to identify what the surcharge is for.
As a result, many people enrolled in health care plans on these exchanges pay directly for other people's abortions without even knowing it.
Moreover, while the bill recently passed by the House of Representatives would force insurance companies to be transparent about these abortion surcharges, it doesn't create pro-life health care options where none exist.
"A lot of the attention has been on taxpayer funding of abortion," explains Casey Mattox, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). "This is even worse because this is requiring individuals to personally fund abortion, to pay money to a private entity to pay for other private people's abortions. This is a serious problem, and it needs to get fixed soon."
Last November, one Connecticut family took steps to fix it in their state. They fought for their convictions and ensured that they and other citizens statewide will be able to find health insurance without sacrificing their pro-life convictions.
Uninsured in Connecticut
"I don't know how you could be Christian and not be pro-life," says Barth Bracy, 47. A Connecticut resident, he drives 25 miles each day across the state line to his job at the Rhode Island Right to Life Committee, where he has served as executive director since 2008. Fighting federal and state funding of abortion is one of the group's core activities—especially since Obamacare was signed into law in 2010.
But Bracy and his wife, Abbie, also entered the fray personally in Connecticut in late 2013, when they received a letter from Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield saying their health plan was being cancelled because of changes wrought by Obamacare.
So, with help from National Right to Life Committee and the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the Bracys began searching for a pro-life health care plan in Connecticut. After a difficult search, Bracy says, he came across online news stories suggesting "that all the (exchange) plans in Connecticut included abortion coverage."
This caused a moral dilemma for the Bracys. On the one hand, under the strictures of Obamacare, they were legally required to obtain health insurance or pay a fine. On the other hand, Bracy was already well aware of the hidden abortion surcharge within Obamacare. So the family sued federal and state officials in a federal court in Connecticut last spring.
"Americans should not have to pay a special fee for other people's abortions in order to take care of their own family's health," says Mattox, who represented the Bracys. "The Bracy family has experienced firsthand the kind of deception that was used to pass and that continues to pervade this law."
As a direct result of the Bracys' case (Bracy v. Burwell), the federal and state governments added Obamacare plan options that will not require participants to pay for other people's abortions in Connecticut. So last November, the family dropped the case.
For Bracy, however, the victory was only partial: According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, four other states—Hawaii, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont—still offer no plans without the abortion surcharge. Therefore, many people who have no desire to fund the abortion industry still do so without realizing it. If Bracy personally had not become so "familiar with all the abortion mandates tucked into Obamacare," because of his job, he says, he wouldn't have known to ask which plans covered abortion, nor would he have had the persistence to find out.
"This was not easy information to get," Bracy says. "And that is one of the dastardly things about it—that there are a good number of Christians and pro-lifers who do not even know, because the government is hiding this information."
"While we are pleased that Connecticut families will now have a choice to avoid paying this abortion surcharge, it is a shame that other families won't have that choice and that most Americans don't even know that they must pay this secret fee," Mattox says.
Arina Grossu, director of the Family Research Council's Center for Human Dignity, agrees.
Last year, the group joined the Charlotte Lozier Institute in launching a website, obamacareabortion.com, specifically to track which states offer pro-life alternatives through the insurance exchanges and which don't.
"We attempted to do what the Obama administration either cannot do or was unwilling to do, which was to make transparent the elective abortion coverage in insurance plans," Grossu explains. "Of course, this is a work in progress, because we're getting conflicting information from various people. We are looking to make transparent what is currently hidden behind a lot of red tape—whether it is from the insurance companies or from the exchanges themselves.
"Right now, there is no transparency, and there is nothing to compel transparency. So insurance companies are free to either provide this (information) or not."
One thing, however, is clear: In several states, pro-lifers have few health insurance options that do not cover elective abortion. In addition to the four states mentioned above that offer no pro-life plans, Grossu says 90 percent or more of the plans available in five others—California, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Washington— cover elective abortion. As a result, some people may find themselves disadvantaged as they search for a plan that meets their needs at a competitive price.
"People have various medical needs and coverage needs, and they should be given options," Grossu says. "They shouldn't have to choose between their conscience and finding the right health care plan for their family."
Even after their victory in Connecticut, Bracy agrees that much work remains to be done.
"The reality is that pro-lifers are still being treated in Connecticut as second-class citizens," he says. "We have to drink from a separate water fountain, as it were, because all of the other people in Connecticut can choose from some 30 plans, while pro-lifers have a very limited selection.
"On its face, I think it is patently and manifestly unjust that, if you're a person of conscience that can't (agree to) pay for the taking of human life, you would have a limited selection of plans."
Moreover, there's no reason for the health insurance industry to operate this way, Mattox says—especially since 46 percent of U.S. adults identify themselves as pro-life, according to a May 2014 Gallup poll.
"I think the reason we're not seeing transparency here, the reason why people are being coerced in a way that makes very little logical sense," Mattox says, "is because it makes a lot of sense for the abortion industry to make sure that there is this enormous pot of money that will be used to pay them for abortion."
At the very least, he adds, the law should allow people to have this simple choice: "If you want abortion coverage, then you can pay for the abortion coverage part of the plan, but if you don't want abortion coverage, then you don't have to pay for (it)."
Legislation and Litigation
Of course, many states have already implemented Mattox's other solution for these problems: namely, to exclude elective abortion coverage from all health care plans. According to research published by the Charlotte Lozier Institute last June, 34 states prohibit the public funding of abortions for indigent women, while 25 states prohibit abortion coverage through plans offered on state and federal exchanges. Moreover, 10 states restrict abortion coverage on private insurance plans.
So far, says Donovan, the federal government has honored state restrictions on abortion coverage under Obamacare.
"In an attempt to preserve their liberty," the Lozier Institute report reads, "it is likely Americans will continue to call on their states and on members of Congress to take action in order to stop coerced funding of abortion via the new exchanges."
Still, Bracy says, pro-lifers must recognize the importance of elections and pro-life legislation.
"Many states have opted out of abortion coverage in Obamacare, and I think there is some hope that more states will follow after these last elections," he explains. "I think pro-lifers nationwide need to understand that elections have very real consequences. We consistently need to elect pro-life individuals to Congress, to the state legislatures and to the White House.
"It was through our government that abortion was legalized throughout this country, and it will be through legislative and political work that we can roll that back."
Meanwhile, pro-lifers can follow Bracy's example by filing lawsuits opposing attempts by the federal or state government to force individuals to pay for abortions.
In January, ADF filed two more lawsuits (Howe v. Burwell and Doe v. Burwell) in federal court on behalf of individuals in states where no pro-life health care options exist. Both Alan Lyle Howe, Jr., of Vermont and John Doe of Rhode Island, who is remaining anonymous because he is HIV-positive, are pro-life advocates who lost their previous health insurance plans when Obamacare took effect. Howe found out his new plan on the Vermont exchange used a portion of his premium to pay for abortions only after hearing about Bracy v. Burwell.
"We need to shine the light on the fact that this is happening, because people are unaware that this is occurring," Mattox says. "We also need to work to force these exchanges to actually provide pro-life people with options and make sure that we have pro-life options available in every state."
Donovan encourages pro-lifers to fight for their convictions, especially if they live in states with few or no pro-life insurance plans.
"Stand up," he says. "Be counted. "We can change an entire state's policy just by one person, one family having the courage to do so."
FOR MORE INFORMATION
To read the Charlotte Lozier Institute's June 27, 2014, report, "Update on Abortion Coverage Limitations: States Take Action," visit lozierinstitute.org/research. To learn more about the Family Research Council, visit frc.org. To learn about abortion coverage nationwide, log onto obamacareabortion.com.