No one called President George W. Bush a "baby killer'' when he advocated for "a community health center in every poor county'' during his 2005 State of the Union address.
For more than 40 years, community health centers have put federal dollars to work in Minnesota and across the nation providing primary care to the poor and uninsured. Bush campaigned on expanding the number of such centers and, once in office, he delivered. During his two terms, the number of center sites grew from 3,798 to more than 7,000. Federal funding doubled from $1 billion to $2 billion, while the number of patients served rose from 9.4 million to 18.4 million.
Nary a complaint was raised about the centers during those years, or in 2009 when the economic stimulus bill provided an additional $2 billion in funding. But in 2010, they suddenly came under attack. Instead of being praised as an alternative to expensive emergency-room care, the nation's federally funded community health centers became the focus of a cynical misinformation campaign led by anti-abortion extremists putting politics before their cause, the welfare of the unborn.
Their claim: that the recently passed federal health care overhaul allows community health centers to perform abortions at taxpayer expense. The reality? This is blatant, misleading fear-mongering. This isn't about protecting the unborn, who will benefit along with their mothers from reform's greater access to medical care. Instead, the intent is to whip up opposition to health care reform in time for the fall elections and to send politicians to Washington, D.C., who will work to repeal the law. How in the world is this "prolife?"
The health reform legislation provides an additional $11 billion to community health centers; there are 18 such centers in Minnesota. None of these centers performs abortions, and the latest expansion of federal dollars isn't going to change that. Something else to be noted: Contrary to some anti-abortion opponents' claims, none of the centers eligible for the funds is run by Planned Parenthood.
The debate over community health centers has centered on whether or not the new $11 billion is subject to the Hyde Amendment, which for 34 years has essentially prohibited the use of federal dollars for abortions. Some abortion opponents claim that the law will send the money directly to the health centers, allowing them to bypass Hyde restrictions.
But President Obama signed an executive order in March affirming Hyde restrictions and specifically noting that they apply to community health center funding. In addition, the new funds will be distributed as grants by a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services division. Not only are HHS funds subject to Hyde restrictions, there are additional longstanding federal regulations that prevent money in programs administered by the HHS division from paying for abortions.
There are other solid reasons why these centers won't suddenly start doing abortions. They rely significantly on private donations and simply don't want to risk this support by wading into the abortion controversy. Congress has also generously supported funding for the centers over the past decade. Providing abortion services would jeopardize that.
Last summer, health reform opponents tried to derail the health reform bill by making wild claims about death panels. The hysterical accusations against community health centers are just death-panel fear-mongering in a different guise. It's sad that those who call themselves "prolife" don't see that they are working against a new law that will help millions of mothers and children get the medical care they need to lead healthy, productive lives.