Tuesday's lead story by David Kirkpatrick, headlined "Abortion Fight Adds to Debate On Health Care," must have come as a surprise to the Times' readership. After all, it has been assured by the paper that the health care bills under consideration by congressional Democrats would not permit taxpayer funded abortions, and that conservatives who suggested otherwise were simply conjuring up another anti-reform myth.
As if it were not complicated enough, the debate over health care in Congress is becoming a battlefield in the fight over abortion.
Abortion opponents in both the House and the Senate are seeking to block the millions of middle- and lower-income people who might receive federal insurance subsidies to help them buy health coverage from using the money on plans that cover abortion. And the abortion opponents are getting enough support from moderate Democrats that both sides say the outcome is too close to call. Opponents of abortion cite as precedent a 30-year-old ban on the use of taxpayer money to pay for elective abortions.
Abortion-rights supporters say such a restriction would all but eliminate from the marketplace private plans that cover the procedure, pushing women who have such coverage to give it up. Nearly half of those with employer-sponsored health plans now have policies that cover abortion, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The question looms as a test of President Obama's campaign pledge to support abortion rights but seek middle ground with those who do not. Mr. Obama has promised for months that the health care overhaul would not provide federal money to pay for elective abortions, but White House officials have declined to spell out what he means.
Democratic Congressional leaders say the latest House and Senate health care bills preserve the spirit of the current ban on federal abortion financing by requiring insurers to segregate their public subsidies into separate accounts from individual premiums and co-payments. Insurers could use money only from private sources to pay for abortions.
But opponents say that is not good enough, because only a line on an insurers' accounting ledger would divide the federal money from the payments for abortions. The subsidies would still help people afford health coverage that included abortion.
Many seemed concerned about issues that are either not in the health care legislation or are peripheral to the debate in Washington - abortion,euthanasia, coverage of immigrants, privacy.
Somehow that abortion debate went from "peripheral" to a Times lead story in about six weeks.
Here are the statements that independents believed and disbelieved, with assessments of each statement provided in parentheses by Aaron Carroll, director of the university's Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research, which helped design the survey with the university's Center for Bioethics
This was one statement in a bullet point list of arguments that the pro-Obama-care Carroll dismissed as "myth," and faithfully relayed as such by reporter Seelye:
- taxpayers will be required to pay for abortions (myth)