Not so long ago, religious conservatives were vigorously making the case that the way to respect the Establishment Clause (i.e. separation of church and state) while permitting government funding of religious primary and secondary schools was through vouchers. Sure, the government should not directly fund educational institutions that did religious indoctrination, but by subsidizing education (a worthy public function) via the provision of vouchers to needy families, the government was putting the decision on whether religion could be included in a child’s education in the families’ hands. The principle of separation of church and state would thus be respected by making the decision to fund religious education a purely private one. Those who might be adamantly opposed to having their tax dollars go to support instruction in any religion and in some particular religion would just have to live with it. And, in the 2002 case of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the Supreme Court said OK.
Now comes health reform, and religious conservatives are vigorously making the case that no tax monies should be permitted to pay for abortions (or at least no more than are presently being done via Medicaid payments for abortions in the case of rape, incest, or the life of the pregnant woman). The problem, simply, is that subsidizing insurance coverage for Americans means that, unless expressly forbidden, public monies would be used to pay for abortions covered by any insurance plan that includes abortion coverage (as a number of them now do). But such payment would be precisely analogous to the education voucher payment. That is to say, insurance subsidies are, effectively, vouchers–public funds that individuals can use to make their own decisions based on what’s available in the market. (No one would be required to use private funds to procure abortion coverage.) And just as we now permit conscientious objections to paying taxes for religious instruction to be overridden by private decisions to procure such instruction as part of primary or secondary education, shouldn’t we permit conscientious objections to paying for abortions to be overridden by private decisions to be covered for it as part of one’s overall health insurance plan?