The Problem with Romneycare

by Michael Sean Winters

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Former Massachusetts Governor, and GOP presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney has found himself on the defensive regarding his health care reform law in the Bay State. Most of the criticism has focused on the fact that the Massachusetts reform, like President Obama’s reform, included an individual mandate, requiring that all citizens purchase health insurance or pay a fine.

But, for Catholics and other pro-life voters, Romneycare holds a different problem. It explicitly provided government funding of abortion. The Massachusetts health care reform established a government funded program, Commonwealth Care, that includes coverage of abortion. Commonwealth Care was made available for free to everyone in the Bay State who was below the poverty line and subsidized participation was made available to those above the poverty line.

In 2010, during the debate on President Obama’s health care effort, abortion funding was the last issue standing. Some pro-life groups declined to endorse the proposal because, under certain worst case scenarios, it might provide government funding for abortion coverage. Others, including the Catholic Health Association, argued that the restrictions on abortion funding contained in the Obama bill were sufficient and the president signed an executive order further strengthening those restrictions.

During the 2010 debate, when asked about the fact that Gov. Romney’s reforms covered abortion, a spokesman for Romney, Eric Fehrnstorm, told CBS, “Court rulings in Massachusetts require state-subsidized health plans to offer abortion services. It's not something that Governor Romney agrees with, but it’s longstanding court precedent that predates his administration.” But, it is difficult to believe that this answer would have satisfied the standard set by pro-life groups opposed to Obama’s bill. The Romney campaign did not respond to repeated calls and emails asking for a comment.

Why is this issue so important? Does it really matter if 100,000 people in Massachusetts now have health insurance that covers abortion with state monies? After all, when we pay our taxes, we are paying for many things with which we disagree: Whether you supported the Iraq War or opposed it, you paid for it. Move on. The reason it matters is that those of us in the pro-life movement cannot abide the idea that abortion is like other types of health care. The medical profession tries to cure diseases and to heal wounds. Abortion takes the life of an unborn child. Which of these three things - disease, wound, and baby – is not like the others? To list abortion alongside other forms of medicine perpetuates the lie that keeps our cultural incapable of righting the horrible wrong that is abortion. I am open to many policy approaches to defeating this scourge, but holding the line against lies is a must.

Additionally, the Massachusetts health care reform law requires that one of the members on a newly created “MassHealth payment policy advisory board” be appointed by Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts. The relevant section of the law reads: “SECTION 3. Chapter 6A of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 16I the following 6 sections: . . . Section 16M. (a) There shall be a MassHealth payment policy advisory board. The board shall consist of the secretary of health and human services or his designee, who shall serve as chair, the commissioner of health care financing and policy, and 12 other members: … 1 member appointed by Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts …”

Romneycare is not the only area in which the former Governor showed himself unalert to the concerns of Catholics. In 2005, he originally vetoed a law requiring all hospitals to administer emergency contraception for rape victims. But, by the end of the year he had flip flopped on the issue. According to the Boston Herald:

“Gov. Mitt Romney abruptly ordered his administration to reverse course yesterday and require Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception medication to rape victims.

In a turnaround that foes derided as politically motivated, Romney directed his Department of Public Health to scrap rules that exempted the Catholic institutions from a new law governing the medicine. Known as Plan B, the drug can prevent women from becoming pregnant if taken within five days of intercourse.

“My personal view in my heart of hearts is that people who are subject to rape should have the option of having emergency contraceptives or emergency contraceptive information,” Romney said.

Actually, the Catholic Church agrees that a woman who has been raped is permitteds to use emergency contraception to protect herself, provided the contraception is not an abortifacient, a distinction not made in the Massachusetts law.

This issue of an opt-out for Catholic hospitals is slightly different from the current debate regarding conscience exemptions for Catholic institutions regarding a new HHS mandate that insurance plans cover contraceptive services and sterilization. The current debate focuses on insurance policies offered by Catholic institutions to their employees and, in the case of colleges and universities, to students. The debate in Massachusetts was an even more direct assault on religious liberty, focused specifically on forcing Catholic hospitals to dispense abortifacients, not to have to pay an insurance premium that covers them.

Mr. Romney, of course, was once pro-choice but has said that in 2004, in the course of a conversation about embryonic stem cell research, he came to see the error of his ways and converted to the pro-life cause. I shall take him at his word. But, the decision to extend abortion coverage as part of his health care reform law, his inclusion of a state board member designated by Planned Parenthood, and his flip-flop on the issue of forcing Catholic hospitals to dispense emergency contraception all occurred after his conversion to the pro-life cause.

During the 2008 campaign, some pro-life Republicans charged that Obama was “the most pro-abortion candidate” in history and they have repeated the charge now that he is in the White House. But, there is no comparison between the way Obama handled abortion coverage in his health care reform and the way Romney handled it in his. A judge in Ohio ruled this year that Obama’s reform does not include federal funding of abortion. Judge Timothy Black held that the “express language of the PPACA [Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare] does not provide for tax-payer funding of abortion. That is a fact, and it is clear on its face.” On its face, Romneycare does provide for taxpayer funding of abortion. So, will GOP pro-lifers admit that Romney has now succeeded to the title of “most pro-abortion candidate” in history?

Voters have only two things to consider about a candidate: their record and their promises. Mr. Romney insists that he is pro-life now and that, if elected, he promises to govern as a pro-life president. But, his record belies that promise. As Ronald Reagan used to say, “Trust, but verify.” In Romney’s case, the promises and the record are not in sync and it will be up to the voters to decide the worth of the promises when his record on pro-life issues is so abysmal.

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