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The latest fight over federal tax dollars and abortion

Planned Parenthood The tussle over the House GOP proposal to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood overlooks an inconvenient truth: Even if Planned Parenthood received zero federal dollars, every taxpayer would still be subsidizing abortions.

That's not because doctors who perform abortions can bill the federal government for the procedure -- they can't. The annual appropriations bills include the so-called Hyde Amendment barring federal dollars from being used to pay for abortions (except in cases of incest, rape or danger to the mother's life), either directly or through federal employees' health benefits.

But tax law does allow companies to exempt from their employees' taxable income the health benefits they receive, including policies that pay for abortions. The premiums that employees pay for those policies are deductible too, as are the premiums paid by the self-employed. The exemption and/or deduction reduces the cost of insurance policies by up to 35%, a pretty hefty subsidy for the abortions covered by those policies.

Congress could end that subsidy by removing the exemption and deduction for the cost of policies with abortion coverage, but it doesn't. My guess is that those who get upset about appropriations that could be used for abortions don't grasp how tax breaks are a subsidy too. But the larger point is that you could probably find lots of indirect ways that abortions are supported by federal tax dollars. Once Congress starts trying to control the indirect effects of its tax and spending policies, where does it stop?

The issue of indirect aid for abortions bedeviled Congress during debate over the healthcare reform bill in 2009 and 2010. Now it's complicating the negotiations over a bill to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, threatening to cause all non-essential federal services to shut down at midnight.

Democrats claim that the last sticking point in the talks is the House GOP's proposed ban on family planning grants in general and aid to Planned Parenthood in particular. (According to The Times and Politico, Republicans say the two sides are still divided on the fundamental issues of what to cut and by how much.) Even though the family planning dollars can be used only for contraception and reproductive health services, not abortions, proponents of the ban say the grants free up money for abortions at clinics such as Planned Parenthood's.

Money is fungible, that's true. But once Congress starts trying to control the indirect effects of federal subsidies, there's no end to the mischief that could ensue. Should the National Cancer Institute be prohibited from providing grants to clinicians at teaching hospitals that instruct obstetrics and gynecology students in how to perform abortions? Should students attending colleges that provide medical abortions (that is, through drugs that induce miscarriages) be denied federal financial aid?

I could come up with a longer parade of horribles, but you get the idea. Cracking down on federally subsidized organizations' use of non-federal dollars for legal purposes gets intrusive in a hurry. It's one thing to cut funding for family planning and reproductive health services to low-income Americans because it's a low priority, even though the services help prevent abortions and promote public health. But the House GOP apparently wants to bar Planned Parenthood from taking part in the program because of other things the group does with other dollars. That's a slippery slope leading to place Congress shouldn't want to go.


Conservatives vs. Planned Parenthood: Game On?

Let's abort the bills by Chris Smith, Joe Pitts and Mike Pence

The Stupak amendment, deconstructed

Immigration: Planning for a courtroom shutdown

-- Jon Healey

Credit: Reuters / Joshua Roberts


Comments () | Archives (19)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Andy Carloff

"Even if Planned Parenthood received zero federal dollars, every taxpayer would still be subsidizing abortions." Yeah, because a miscarriage is an abortion, and hospitals facilitate it. Good thing we're not in the Middle Ages, right?


Okay, good. Then why won't the Dems just agree? Our country is heading for bankruptcy, yet Democrats, who control 2 of 3 branches of the government, continue to show ZERO leadership. Lead, follow or get out of the way.

john goolkasian

Frankly the anti abortion folks are trying to impose their set of religious superstititions on the rest of us. Using the logic of the article, we should ban all charitable deductions for monies given to churches. It is time for those of us who remain sane to tell the Christian Taliban to bug off. As Jesus taught, render to Ceasar the things that are Ceasar's and to God the things that are God's. In other words, let us maintain the separation of church and state, lest we become like some mideastern country ruled by religious leaders.

Bill W

I am not a fan of abortion. But as a man, I'll never face that decision, so it's unfair for me to decide. However, as a taxpayer, I will say, it's much cheaper to pay for abortions than to pay for unwanted children, and the decades of crime that we would all suffer because of them.


Strange critters Republicans...They seem to care so much about the unborn yet the "born" are not entitled to clean drinking water, clean air, healthy environment, decent and affordable health care, meals for themselves and their families and a good affordable education as well as a decent paying job.However they are happy to send plenty of soldiers to two futile wars costing trillions of dollars to die for a lost cause.If they don't die they can also return to less than quality care for vets and possible suicide when they feel their country has betrayed them.Republicans don't care and never complain of course because this feeds the war machine and makes those involved with this fiasco exceedingly wealthy.Soldiers who are"born" are expendable of course and Republicans are grateful for their donations to their coffers.Maybe they need the "unborn" to all become soldiers to further increase their profits.This might be the real reason they dislike abortion or Planned Parenthood.Maybe they need the unborn to eventually be duped by unscrupulous banks into buying a home that is criminally foreclosed on so their banking buddies and financial institutions can make even more profits from their duplicitous dealings.Either way Republican consciences don't seem to extend very far into truly empathetic human necessities.Striving to abolish abortions and holding the country to ransom because of it is just a ploy to make people believe that they actually do have a heart and soul somewhere though I can't imagine where that might be.

Valarie Dickey

More accurate Slippery slope= A return to the days of botched home coat hanger abortions and a time when innocent men were accused of rape just to facilitate abortions. I'm not saying there's an easy answer, but if you're crunching numbers and counting pennies to rescue the budget or to help people overall, it doesn't make sense to overregulate this way. Different people look at the "rightness" and "wrongness" of abortions differtly, but justifiable loopholes may give some unscrupulous people an incentive to accuse the innocent. How much will that cost "the government" and "our people?" Justice should be blind-- health care should be universal.


Bill W - point well taken. Allow me to propose this: I will pay for the abortion if the individual having the abortion agrees to have her tubes tied at the same time. This is not an issue of abortion rights, it is soley an issue of fair play. I do not desire to pay so somebody else can play!


How about this: Any clinic that performs abortions cannot receive taxpayer money. Simple enough ..


"Frankly the anti abortion folks are trying to impose their set of religious superstititions on the rest of us."

You don't need religious superstitution to think that a late-term fetus, at least, is close enough to a baby for government work.

Steve Wilkinson

Planned Parenthood is just a rotten to the core agency though... so I really don't care how they use the money, they shouldn't be getting any. They assist the trafficking of underage sex-slaves, they promote abortion over other options. Their founder promoted genocide, and judging from their push efforts in black communities, it seems they aren't that far away in ideology. We can find some other agencies to hand out birth control.

P J Evans

Planned Parenthood: a place where you can get contraceptives, Pap tests, pregnancy tests, prenatal care, parenting classes, and in some places, abortions (usually because there isn't any place else).

And because it's good for women, children, minorities, and the poor, Republicans want to shut it down.


Freddiek - point not well taken. When you think abortion you think "pay so so somebody else can play"? It seems to me like you do not take abortions seriously enough. When a woman finds out she is pregnant, the first thought is not "Oh boy, can't wait to abort it!" Serious matters come into play when making such a large decision, such as who the father is, how the child's life would be, and how the mother's and/or father's lives would be changed for better or worse. Some people are careless when they have sex and become pregnant, and some people are meticulous and they STILL get pregnant. Either way, what kind of life do you think a child would receive if it was never wanted in the first place?
And also, Planned Parenthood is not purely a fun, sinful, abortion manifesto. It also tests and treats people for STDs such as HIV/AIDS, offers LGTB services, and many other health services for men and women. Basically, what so many people need that nobody wants to talk about.
It is simply AMAZING and terrifying that some politicians have peace knowing that people in America can't afford to eat or send their children to school, and soliders are being shipped off to a long and somewhat forgotten war, yet their unconditional love for fetuses is what's on the forefront of America's issues.


You know what You guys should stop complaining because, one the health care we have now isnt as good as it was supposed to be. also the law has just been signed so give it some time. so if u want to say u have the right to choose tell that to ur congress men or state official. If you do not have insurance and need one You can find full medical coverage at the lowest price by searching online for "Penny Health Insurance" If you have health insurance and do not care about cost just be happy it and trust me you are not going to loose anything!


HeywoodJ: Do you even know what the three branches of government are? Obiously from your statement that democrats control two of the three, you do not.

Steve Wilkinson

@ Bill W - What does not being a woman have to do with anything? The core issue is whether one person can kill another without justification. It's that simple. It doesn't matter whether you're a male or female to decide of that kind of thing should be allowed.
re: cheaper - That's pretty sick. It would be cheaper to kill off the elderly once they retire from the workforce too. Do we really want to go there? Engage your brain!

Steve Wilkinson

@ Limey -
Even if what you say is true (and I agree there is some amount of truth to it), I'm not sure how that justifies siding with killing babies. If true, it just means that Republicans are hypocrites, not wrong on trying to stop abortion.

Steve Wilkinson

@ john goolkasian -
One can defend a pro-live stance without any 'religious superstitions' except those which form our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. You're correct in that without religion, you can't defend any kind of moral position. Do you really want to go there?

re: 'render to Caesar' - Other than that being the most 'interesting' interpretation of those verses I think I've ever heard, children aren't Caesar's! (and not interesting in a good or intelligent way)


No one should have to pay someones decision to have an abortion, they got into that situation they should pay to get out.

Simple Facts

It's really simple. If Planned Parenthood offers abotions then they should not get one dime in federal funding.



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