By Daniel McConchie and Mary Harned
After much debate, the Mississippi House took the important step Saturday of voting for a bill that would prohibit insurance plans in the soon-to-be-created federal health care exchanges from covering abortion.
Some in the media have argued that this is an unnecessary bill and a waste of the legislature’s time. The bill’s opponents say that the state already prohibits taxpayer funding of abortion and that the bill’s proponents are merely grandstanding.
In reality, this is an important and necessary fight.
According to the new health care law passed just last month, Mississippi will soon be compelled to create a new health care exchange where insurance policies can be issued that cover abortion. While rules are in place that are intended to prevent direct taxpayer funding of abortion, it is a fact that the insurance policies themselves will be able to receive federal taxpayer subsidies for anyone earning between 150% and 400% of poverty level.
This new subsidy is a significant departure from current federal policy regarding taxpayer funding of abortion. There’s no better proof that this is an issue than the fact that Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, in exchange for his being the 60th vote to cut off debate on the federal bill, insisted the new law contain section 1303 explicitly allowing states to opt-out of the abortion mandate by passing a law as the Mississippi legislature has just done.
There are those who argue that current law already prohibits taxpayer funding of abortion. However, they misunderstand what the federal law actually does. The law directs federal, not state, taxpayer money into subsidies of the insurance plans. Current Mississippi law only prohibits state money from being used, not federal. If states want to prevent federal taxpayer funds from being used, they must pass a new law to do it.
Others have argued that President Obama’s executive order on abortion makes a new state law unnecessary. However, the Supreme Court has long held that an executive order cannot trump laws passed by Congress, so the order cannot actually prevent federal subsidies from going to plans that cover abortion. In the new law, this right is reserved for state legislatures alone.
Mississippi is not alone in acting in this way. Arizona’s law has already been signed by the Governor. Tennessee’s law has passed both chambers. Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Oklahoma are expected to soon follow. Michigan, Ohio, and South Carolina are pursuing similar bills.
Mississippi has made the right move by affirmatively taking advantage of the option to prevent federal subsidies of insurance plans that cover abortion. We urge that the legislature send the bill to the Governor quickly, and it be signed into law.
Daniel McConchie is Vice President of Government Affairs and Mary Harned is Staff Counsel for Americans United for Life Action