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A Reality-Based Answer to Stupak

Passing health care is going to require convincing Representative Bart Stupak, or at least his would-be allies, to vote for the bill despite their concerns that it is tantamount to federal funding of abortion services. Slate's Timothy Noah has come up with a novel argument that might help. It isn't tantamount to federal funding of abortions:

A central puzzle of the health reform debate is why Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., keeps saying that the Senate-passed bill allows taxpayer dollars to be spent on abortions. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says it, too. This dispute concerns (or at least pretends to concern) matters of fact, not belief. The question of whether the government funds a given medical procedure is not like the question of whether human life begins at conception. It's empirical, not ideological. And Stupak happens to be wrong.

From there, Noah walks through the bill and explains why Stupak is wrong. The article ought to be required reading not only for every House member contemplating a "no" vote based on abortion, but for everybody covering this issue.

Of course, the irony is that taxpayers already subsidize abortion services for tens of millions of Americans. The exclusion of group health insurance premiums from personal income taxes amounts to a massive taxpayer subsidy for employer-sponsored coverage. And many employer-sponsored plans cover abortion services. (In October, Time's Amy Sullivan noted that Focus on the Family's insurance plan was among them.)

You don't see Stupak and his supporters challenging that subsidy, perhaps because they would lose if middle-class Americans realized it was their access to abortion services at stake. As Ezra Klein has pointed out, Stupak is willing to take this stand only when it affects poor people.