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Tom Feran
By Tom Feran May 16, 2011

Sen. Sherrod Brown critical of House bill's potential impact on insurance coverage for abortions

The use of federal dollars for most abortions has been prohibited since Congress first passed the Hyde Amendment, a "rider" attached annually to health appropriations bills, in 1976.

A bill passed by the House this month would use the tax system and federal health care reform to extend restrictions to private insurance coverage.

The "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," proposed by Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., one of the House's leading abortion opponents, would not allow small businesses to deduct the cost of private employee insurance plans if the plans cover abortion. The tax deductibility of policies is the foundation of employer-provided health insurance.

Sen. Sherrod Brown called the bill the "latest declaration of war on women."

"Eighty-seven percent of private insurance plans currently include such coverage," the Ohio Democrat said in a fundraising letter to supporters.

If that figure is true, the bill would tightly narrow the range of policy choices or lead insurance plans to drop abortion coverage. We wondered where it came from.

Because Brown's statement came in a fundraising message, his office referred us to his sole current campaign worker, Sarah Benzing. She cited stories from the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times and other sources using the 87 percent figure, which is attributed to the Guttmacher Institute -- an independent nonprofit whose statistics are used by both sides of the abortion debate.

The institute conducted a federally supported study in 2002 with the aim of "assessing levels of insurance coverage for a wide range of reproductive health services," and found that 87 percent of typical employer-based insurance policies "covered medically necessary or appropriate abortions."

A similar study, cited by Guttmacher, was conducted at about the same time by the Kaiser Family Foundation and released as part of its 2003 Annual Employer Health Benefits Survey. It found that 46 percent of covered workers had coverage for abortion.

The studies asked different questions, helping explain the disparity in results. While Guttmacher reported on policies, Kaiser counts covered workers. Membership in plans would not be evenly distributed.

The bottom line, to the institute, is that "most Americans with employer-based insurance currently have coverage for abortion."

So where does Brown’s claim rate on the Truth-O-Meter?

A study by the Kaiser Foundation yielded a much lower figure for coverage, but it is a percentage of covered workers, not plans. Brown’s claim specifically cites "87 percent of private insurance plans."

His figure, widely cited in the news media, comes from an organization that both sides of the debate rely one for information.

But while the source Brown used is widely cited, it is worth noting that it is not a recent study. The study, attributed to the Guttmacher Institute, was done nearly a decade ago. That’s an additional piece of information that helps put the data in context.

On the Truth-O-Meter, we rate his claim as Mostly True.

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Our Sources

The Washington Post, "Legislative proposal puts abortion rights supporters on alert," Feb. 1, 2011

PolitiFact, "Bill is contentious, but is advancing through the House," March 28, 2011

PolitiFact, "Statements about abortion"

NPR, Morning Edition, "House GOP Pushes To End Health Insurance Abortion Coverage," Jan. 21, 2011

The Hill, "House Judiciary OKs bill denying federal funds for abortion," March 3, 2011

Library of Congress, 112th Congress, Bill summary and status, H.R. 3

Internal Revenue Service, Affordable Care Act Tax Provisions, May 9, 2011

Internal Revenue Service, Small Business Health Care Tax Credit, May 5, 2011

Email from Sherrod Brown, "Turning back the clock?," May 10, 2011

Email from campaign manager Sarah Benzing, Friends of Sherrod Brown, May 10, 2011

The Plain Dealer, "Government insurance would allow coverage for abortion," Aug. 5, 2009

TIME magazine, "The Trouble With Abortion and Healthcare Reform," July 8, 2009

Guttmacher Institute, Memo on insurance coverage of abortion, July 22, 2009

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More by Tom Feran

Sen. Sherrod Brown critical of House bill's potential impact on insurance coverage for abortions

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