Lawmakers considering ObamaCare replacement: learn from 10 anti abortion betrayals
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As Republicans move forward with their replacement for ObamaCare, they would be wise to remember the bitter battle over abortion funding in ObamaCare. Republicans must not make the same mistakes made by pro-life Democrats — most of whom are no longer in Congress after their betrayal of the pro-life movement.

A pro-life prerequisite for the Democrats’ healthcare bill in 2009-2010 was statutory prohibitions on funding for abortion in line with the Hyde amendment. The same standard must apply to the current Republican Congress.


As Democrats began discussing a major healthcare overhaul in President Obama’s first term, Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and I recognized that stopping the flow of taxpayer dollars to abortion coverage saves lives.  A recent study found that over 2 million lives have been saved by the Hyde amendment which, since 1976, has stopped taxpayer funding for abortion in the Medicaid program. We also realized that the courts interpret the word “healthcare” to include abortion unless it is specifically excluded from the law.


With this in mind, Bart and I worked together to craft pro-life amendments including one to stop taxpayer funding for abortion similar to the longstanding Hyde amendment. Even with bipartisan support, our amendment failed in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Instead leading Democrats — then-House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week Five takeaways on a surprisingly poor jobs report On The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July MORE (Calif.), Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.) and Lois Capps (Calif.) — crafted an accounting gimmick referred to as the “Capps Amendment” to allow taxpayer funding for plans that included abortion. Under the Capps amendment, taxpayer dollars would buy insurance that included abortion, but the abortion payments would be labeled as “private dollars.” 

We opposed this gambit recognizing that there is no such gimmick in the Hyde amendment and that the same taxpayer complicity in abortion exists as long as federal funds are going to the plan that includes abortion.

A coalition of pro-life Democrats rejected the Capps amendment and blocked this early version of ObamaCare until they were given a vote on the Stupak-Pitts amendment. Finally, the amendment was made in order and passed in the House with overwhelming bipartisan support including 64 Democrats. 

Blocking the entire bill was a particularly significant step on the part of Democrats like Stupak who had a deep commitment to universal healthcare. From the time he was elected to Congress in 1992, Bart had refused federal employee health benefits because he told voters he wouldn’t accept them until universal health care was enacted.

Then the bill went to the Senate where it was modified so that the subsidies for insurance were provided in the form of tax credits. Tax credits were simply a different mechanism by which to subsidize insurance that included abortion coverage. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) made some changes to the Capps amendment, but the basic accounting gimmick approach remained with the addition of an option for states to ban abortion coverage on their state exchanges.

The Senate approved the bill in December 2009 and sent it back to the House. With the election of Republican Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.) to fill the seat held by the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy in January 2010, Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. They realized the only way to make further changes to the bill was through a budget reconciliation bill that requires just 51 votes for passage in the Senate.

Bart and I continued to oppose the bill due to the inclusion of tax credits for insurance options that included abortion. For several months, we worked to add true Hyde protections to the bill so that taxpayer funding would not flow to plans that covered abortion.

A group of roughly 40 Democrats insisted they would vote against the bill if it did not contain language stopping the credits from being used for plans that include abortion. Gradually the Democratic leadership chipped away at the Stupak coalition of pro-life Democrats, culminating in Bart agreeing to vote for the bill in exchange for an executive order that primarily just restated the accounting gimmicks in the bill.

As a result of this betrayal of the pro-life movement, pro-life groups took their case to the voters and helped usher in a pro-life Congress controlled by Republicans.

As the pro-life Republican Congress of 2017 considers their replacement for ObamaCare, they must not make the same mistakes as the Stupak coalition. They must ensure that no government assistance, including in the form of tax credits, flows to plans that cover abortion. As was the case in 2010, accounting gimmicks and executive orders fall far short of the Hyde standard and must be rejected. 

If a bill is presented that does not meet this threshold, the pro-life community will expect pro-life Members of the House and Senate to stand firm in voting against the measure.

Rep. Joseph R. "Joe" Pitts is served as U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania's 16th congressional district from 1997 to 2017.

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