Few satisfied by administration's limits on abortion coverage

The Obama administration’s restrictions on abortion coverage in the healthcare reform law's high-risk pools have infuriated abortion-rights supporters while failing to placate the procedure’s opponents.

Planned Parenthood, a reliable Democratic ally, said it "strongly opposes" the restrictions, spelled out in a regulation issued Thursday.

ADVERTISEMENT
The regulation limits abortion coverage in the federally-funded pools, which cover people with pre-existing conditions, to cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger.

"The high-risk insurance pools are meant to provide access to health coverage for women and men with serious medical conditions, such as cancer, AIDS, and heart disease," Planned Parenthood Federation of American President Cecile Richards said in a statement. "These are the very women who are more likely to be subject to medically complicated pregnancies and in need of the full range of reproductive care, including abortion coverage."

The pools will cease to operate in 2014, when healthcare plans will no longer be allowed to deny sick people coverage.

At the other end of the spectrum, the National Right to Life Committee cautions that the regulation raises concerns about the broader healthcare reform law.

While acknowledging that the new regulation "tells states that elective abortions may not be covered in the high-risk pool program," NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson took issue with White House Office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle's statement that the decision “is not a precedent for other programs or policies given the unique, temporary nature" of the high-risk pools.

Anti-abortion groups want Congress to pass a bill introduced Thursday by Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) that would permanently ban federal funding for the procedure.

Before the regulation was issued, anti-abortion groups had raised concerns that language in the reform law as well as the president's executive order on abortion — which prevents federal funding for it — would still allow states to cover elective abortions in their high-risk pools. The groups charged that several states, including Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Maryland, had intended to do just that.

Rosanne Placey, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance, denied that was the case.

"We're happy to see that the rules clarify what we've said all along — which is that we never would or could cover elective abortions," Placey said. "We have the clarity that everyone seeks now, and it was always our intent to follow federal law and guidelines."

Several Republican senators wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday demanding that she issue a regulation clarifying the restrictions after the Congressional Research Service said earlier guidance did not have the force of law. The senators did not raise questions with the regulation on Thursday, suggesting it may have answered their concerns.

John Hart, a spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), one of the letter signers, told The Hill: “The senator wants to look at it more closely before giving it the all-clear. But it looks encouraging at this point.”