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President Trump discussing with lawmakers on replacing Obamacare at the White House, March 2017. Photo from Vice President Pence @ twitter | Wikimedia Commons

Tax credits in proposed healthcare law could fund abortion

Pro-life groups worry the Republican replacement for Obamacare could create a new way to fund abortion.

“I think this could be a defining moment for the pro-life movement,” said Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs for March for Life Action. “We need to make it clear abortion is not healthcare.”

The GOP leadership-endorsed plan, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), directs funds away from Planned Parenthood to community health centers for one year. While pro-life groups say they are grateful for the provision, the legislation could help fund abortions using refundable tax credits. McClusky told me he’s not aware of any pro-life group willing to grant a full-throated endorsement for the Republican replacement package in its current version.

The AHCA received mixed responses after its details became known on March 6. The repeal-and-replacement package retained several popular provisions under Obamacare such as guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions and letting young adults stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26. It also would ax many of the costly taxes and subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

But it’s still a compromise bill. Moderate Republicans fear the plan will take away coverage from newly insured Medicaid patients. And conservative lawmakers and activist groups trashed the bill as “Obamacare 2.0” because it failed to prove it could lower out-of-pocket costs and would create a new fiscal burden to subsidize healthcare for low-income Americans with refundable tax credits.

The tax credits vary based on age from $2,000 to $4,000 per year. Qualified Americans would be able to place the money in a health savings account to pay for their medical costs. The money has no pro-life restrictions, and women could use the federal dollars to terminate pregnancies. McClusky told me the bill kills its merits by creating a brand new method to subsidize abortion.

But Brendan O’Morchoe, vice president of strategy for Students for Life of America, said pro-lifers have a lot to be optimistic about with the AHCA and praised how it redirects Planned Parenthood funding. O’Morchoe acknowledged concern over the way health savings account funds could create a new avenue to pay for abortion but said he felt sure Congress would resolve the issue before a final vote.

“I haven’t even thought about what we’ll do if it doesn’t happen,” O’Morchoe told me. He said his confidence stemmed from conversations with congressional staffers working on the legislation.

By law, taxpayer dollars cannot fund abortion procedures. Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, annually receives $500 million earmarked for non-abortion healthcare from the federal government. Pro-life groups say because Planned Parenthood offers abortions at its locations, taxpayers are paying for something they might morally object to.

Republicans are using the reconciliation process to avoid a Senate filibuster on the healthcare package. In the past, pro-life lawmakers have included defunding Planned Parenthood in reconciliation bills, but strict Senate rules removed the language.

It’s unclear what the Senate parliamentarian will decide about Planned Parenthood money in the AHCA once it reaches the upper chamber, McClusky said.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, acknowledged the uncertainty in a written statement this week. But he added that the ability to fund abortion through refundable tax credits was also concerning.

“If the abortion funding restrictions for healthcare credits and state funds in this new bill fails in the Senate, then these provisions will subsidize abortion,” Perkins wrote. “In that case, the pro-life community could not support the overall bill and should oppose it.”

The House is still adjusting the AHCA. Early this morning, the Ways and Means Committee finished its markup on the legislation and approved the bill along party lines. Later in the day, the Energy and Commerce Committee did the same.

While myriad stakeholders have expressed concerns about the legislation, President Donald Trump said there’s nothing to worry about.

“Despite what you hear in the press, healthcare is coming along great,” Trump tweeted March 9. “We are talking to many groups and it will end in a beautiful picture!”

— by Evan Wilt

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