Unborn children were the clear winners in the Virginia General Assembly’s recently reconvened session. Intense lobbying by the Virginia Catholic Conference and our pro-life allies earned passage of Governor Bob McDonnell’s amendment prohibiting abortion-on-demand coverage in the federal health exchange operating in Virginia. It was the first of two major pro-life victories in two weeks. (We wanted our inaugural blog to celebrate it! We’ll talk about the second in next week’s post.)
Not surprisingly, abortion advocates were chagrined at this life-saving effort, which included grassroots work by Conference network members, as well as the Family Foundation of Virginia, the Virginia Society for Human Life, the Susan B. Anthony List, and others. It boiled down to this: Would the vast majority of abortions be excluded from coverage in the health exchange? Or would all abortions be covered?
The 2011 federal Affordable Care Act requires states to either set up their own exchange (a virtual “marketplace” for those shopping for health insurance) or allow residents who don’t have insurance through their employers to get coverage through the federal exchange. Tens of thousands of low- and middle-income Virginians will use the exchange to provide healthcare for themselves and their families. Despite arguments to the contrary, the exchange is taxpayer funded. Taxes pay for managing the exchange, and for subsidizing health plans in many cases.
The Affordable Care Act does not prohibit tax-funded abortion on demand, but it does contain a provision allowing states to do so. Governor McDonnell’s amendment capitalized on this provision, applying the federal Hyde Amendment (allowing no abortion funding except in life-of-the-mother, rape, and incest cases) to all insurance plans that participate in the exchange in Virginia.
McDonnell’s amendment easily passed the House of Delegates, 55-37. In the Senate, a day of nail-biting and parliamentary maneuvering by both parties finally gave way to the amendment’s passage, by a 20-19 vote. Two pro-life Democrats, Senators Charles Colgan and Phillip Puckett, joined 18 Republicans and voted “yea.” Their support was critical. Virginia is now one of 20 states that have opted out of taxpayer-funded coverage of abortion on demand.
We’ve heard from critics on our pro-life side who say we shouldn’t have supported legislation unless it prohibited coverage of all abortions. The Conference strongly opposes all abortion funding, and a ban with no exceptions would have been optimal. However, such a ban was not under consideration and would not have succeeded. By approving McDonnell’s amendment, legislators chose to save as many lives as they could—rather than no lives at all. Our work to protect all life in law is by no means done, however. As the Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”