Conservatives say Pennsylvania high-risk pool would cover abortions

A conservative group is charging that Pennsylvania’s new high-risk pool for sick people without insurance — part of the Democrats’ healthcare reform law — will use federal dollars to fund abortions. The Obama administration says that's flat wrong.

According to the Family Research Council, the high-risk pool, which is getting $160 million from the Department of Health and Human Services, would cover any abortion legal in the state.


“This is the boldest admission yet from the Obama administration that the President’s Executive Order on taxpayer-funded abortion was a sham,” House Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Stopping the next insurrection Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid MORE (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “The fact that the high-risk pool insurance program in Pennsylvania will use federal taxpayer dollars to fund abortions is unconscionable.”

The Pennsylvania high-risk pool language states that it does not cover "elective" abortions, but the National Right to Life Committee says that term isn't defined anywhere. Instead, the pool would cover abortions that are legal in Pennsylvania, a condition that is met if a single physician determines that an abortion is necessary for the "well-being of the woman." The NRLC says that would cover any abortion expect those motivated by parents' desire for a child of a different gender.

Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the charge is inaccurate. She said all high-risk pools - whether run by the states or by the federal government - will follow the same rules as do the insurance plans for federal employees, which only cover abortions in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the mother is in danger.

HHS says conservative accusations are wrong in several respects: 

1) Pennsylvania hasn't signed a high-risk pool contract with HHS yet;

2) States won't begin providing services under the high-risk pools until Aug. 1, by which time HHS guidance will be in place;

3) HHS contracts with states make it clear that the federal government will be issuing guidance "so they know they will have to live by our guidance per the contract."

Republicans have called for a strict prohibition on taxpayer funds being used to pay for abortion coverage.

The Susan B. Anthony List is being especially critical of Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.), who had said she wouldn’t support a heathcare reform bill that included federal funding for abortion.

To placate anti-abortion Democrats, President Obama signed an executive order barring use of federal funds to cover abortions in health insurance exchanges. That order does not apply to the high-risk pools.

“This was one of the many concerns from the beginning: that abortion language in the bill doesn’t cover high risk pools,” Susan B. Anthony List spokeswoman Kerry Brown told The Hill. “Many states will be implementing high-risk pools, so similar situations could happen almost anywhere.”