Gannett Newspapers: Anti-abortion groups take aim at Indiana Democrats

This article originally appeared on the Gannett Newspaper wire on October 27, 2010.


Anti-abortion groups take aim at Indiana Democrats

By Maureen Groppe

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Anyone driving from South Bend to Kokomo these days can’t miss the billboards along U.S. 31 accusing Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly of backing public funding of abortions.

“Shame on Joe Donnelly,” say the billboards, which are paid for by an anti-abortion group, the Susan B. Anthony List.

Such groups have spent more than $313,000 on ads, mailings, bus tours and other expenditures to help elect Hoosier Republicans to Congress, even though their top Democratic targets -Donnelly, of Granger, Rep. Baron Hill of Seymour; and Rep. Brad Ellsworth of Evansville, who is running for Senate -say they fought to prevent the new health care law from allowing federal funding of abortions.

None of the three is backed by groups that advocate for abortion rights.

“My pro-life credentials are crystal clear,” said Donnelly, who got the lowest possible ratings from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America last year. “But you have to understand, this is not about being pro-life. This is politics.”

The campaigns ads are an extension of the fight over the health care overhaul. The House passed the bill twice over GOP opposition, but only after arguments over abortion were resolved to attract crucial support from Democrats.

The annual spending bill that funds Medicaid, the health care program for the poor, routinely bars using federal funds to directly finance abortions, except in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother.

Under the health care overhaul, people without employer-provided coverage who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to purchase health insurance on their own could qualify for federal subsidies to buy coverage on new health exchanges. The question was whether women getting subsidies could purchase insurance that covers elective abortions.

Under the first version of the overhaul, brought to the House floor last November, women would have had to pay separately for the part of a premium that covered abortion services if they chose a plan that offered them.

When anti-abortion groups rejected that approach as an accounting gimmick, Ellsworth tried to broker a compromise. A private contractor would handle payments for abortion services to further segregate funding, and there would be at least one plan on the exchange that didn’t cover abortion services.

That didn’t satisfy abortion foes, so Democratic leaders let the House vote on whether to simply bar insurers from selling plans covering abortions to women receiving the premium subsidies. The amendment passed with support from Ellsworth, Donnelly and Hill.

But that restriction wasn’t included in the Senate health care reform bill that came to the House for final passage in March.

Donnelly had publicly said the Senate’s version, which required only a segregation of premiums, wasn’t good enough. He was among the final holdouts.

He and other anti-abortion Democrats didn’t back the bill until the White House announced the president would sign an executive order affirming that the overhaul would maintain the ban on federal funding of abortions.

Abortion rights groups were upset, saying the new law imposes restrictions on abortion coverage that could lead most private health insurers to stop offering such coverage. Private insurers wouldn’t go to the trouble of establishing separate premiums for abortion services, they said, and states could prohibit plans from offering abortion coverage on their health exchanges.

Anti-abortion groups also weren’t happy. They said neither the law nor the executive order would prevent federally funded abortions, and they promised to tell that to voters.

In addition to the billboards and a bus tour, the Susan B. Anthony List teamed with Indiana Family Action and CitizenLink, an affiliate of Focus on the Family, to run TV ads in Donnelly’s district that the average viewer would see eight or nine times this month.

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