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Howard Dean's Abortion Contortions
The DNC chairman gets his facts wrong.
By John McCormack
06/12/2008 12:00:00 AM


YESTERDAY MORNING AT the Christian Science Monitor breakfast meeting, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean was asked whether the Democratic platform on abortion should be amended. That will be up to Barack Obama and his delegates, Dean said, adding that the Democratic party believes "individuals have a right to make up their own minds in personal matters ... but this party also believes that we ought to significantly reduce the number of abortions in this country."

Given the latter, I asked how he could square Barack Obama's and the Democratic party's support for public funding for abortion--which studies show significantly increases the abortion rate.

Dean responded: "Total nonsense. It's total nonsense that public funding" increases the abortion rate.

Well, according to the Guttmacher Institute--Planned Parenthood's research arm--that's not total nonsense.

A 1994-1995 AGI survey of abortion patients found that in states where Medicaid pays for abortions, women covered by Medicaid have an abortion rate 3.9 times that of women who are not covered, while in states that do not permit Medicaid funding for abortions, Medicaid recipients are only 1.6 times as likely as nonrecipients to have abortions.

A more recent study by Dr. Michael New of the University of Alabama found: "State laws restricting the use of Medicaid funds in paying for abortions reduced the abortion rate by 29.66" abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age.

After I pointed out the Guttmacher research on taxpayer funding and the abortion rate, Dean said: "If the Guttmacher Institute has said it would, I'm not going to argue with the Guttmacher Institute, but I can tell you as the governor of one of the four states which provides public funding, I find that hard to believe because our rate is not higher than the rate of corresponding states nearby."

Wrong again. Howard Dean became Vermont's governor in 1991. In 1992, Vermont's abortion rate was 67 percent higher than New Hampshire's, in 1994 it was 55 percent higher, and in 1996 it was 100 percent higher.

Furthermore, seventeen states--not four--fund abortions for Medicaid recipients: "Four of these states provide funding voluntarily (HI, MD, NY, and WA); in thirteen, courts interpreting their state constitutions have declared broad and independent protection for reproductive choice and have ordered nondiscriminatory public funding of abortion (AK, AZ, CA, CT, IL, MA, MN, MT, NJ, NM, OR, VT, and WV)."

Dean also said: "I don't believe that this has been debated, that this has been brought up by any candidate. ... I have not heard any discussion about public funding for abortion in this campaign at all." Wrong a fourth time!

In a speech before Planned Parenthood last July, Barack Obama said: "The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act." Obama is a co-sponsor of the act, which would prohibit discrimination against abortion through the "regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information"--i.e. if government funds childbirth, government must fund abortion.

Following Obama's Planned Parenthood speech last July, the Chicago Tribune reported: "Asked about his proposal for expanded access to health insurance, Obama said it would cover 'reproductive-health services.' Contacted afterward, an Obama spokesman said that included abortions." So Obama supports taxpayer funding not just for Medicaid recipients' abortions. In principle, he supports coverage for anyone who wants it.

As if Dean's four strikes on abortion weren't bad enough, he also argued: "I think we'll be much more successful than Senator McCain" in reducing the number of abortions. How's that? McCain believes an "insurance company shouldn't be allowed to pay for birth control pills," said Dean.

Afterward, I asked a DNC spokeswoman when McCain had opposed the right of insurance companies to cover birth control. She wrote in an email that "McCain voted against an amendment adding language to the Partial Birth Abortion Ban prohibiting health insurance plans from discriminating against contraception."

In other words, McCain voted in favor of a conscience clause that would protect, for example, a Catholic insurance company's decision to not cover contraception.

A conscience clause for birth control coverage is not the same thing as prohibiting birth control coverage. But don't try to confuse Howard Dean with the facts.

John McCormack is deputy online editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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