Update on Abortion Access in Healthcare Reform

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted to table an amendment to the healthcare reform bill, the language of which mirrored the restrictive Stupak-Pitts amendment attached to the House’s version of the bill. The Senate amendment was offered by Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, and seven Democrats, all male and including Pennsylvania’s junior senator, Bob Casey, voted to keep the amendment alive. Two Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine, voted to table the amendment.

This week, the Nation re-published WLP Special Advisor Kate Michelman’s article about the devastating impact that healthcare crises have had on her family. In a brief new introduction, Kate writes:

Other than the steady decline to be expected with my husband’s Parkinson’s disease, there is little change to report in our situation since I wrote about our family’s health care challenges in The Nation last spring. Costs continue to mount as his independence ebbs. Caretaking is my life. But what has not changed for us is not nearly as important as what has changed in the healthcare debate. A year ago, amid post-election euphoria, the healthcare debate seemed to offer real hope. A public option that would inject competition into the healthcare market and theoretically bring the cost of healthcare under some semblance of control seemed to be the most minimal reform Washington could conceivably offer a nation fed up with a system that was failing us. Today, a considerably diluted public option is flitting around the edges of the Senate debate as an extravagant idea that might, if enough deals can be struck, sneak through. Meanwhile, a group of House Democrats sacrificed women’s health by inserting restrictions on abortion broader than even the most ambitious Republicans could have imagined a year ago, and Senate Democrats may pursue the same strategy. The article below, which I wrote last April, is as relevant as ever.

The Senate vote also came as the New York Times published an op-ed by Rep. Bart Stupak, who, along with Pennsylvania Rep. Joseph Pitts, wrote the amendment restricting abortion coverage in the House version of the bill. He jumps through linguistic hoops, trying to assert that his language does nothing but uphold the Hyde Amendment which has restricted federal funds for abortion since 1976 and has had a disproportionate effect on low-income women.

The Stupak-Pitts amendment goes way beyond the Hyde Amendment. Women’s eNews nicely summed up the effects the Stupak-Pitts amendment will have on abortion coverage:

The amendment–named for Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa.–infringes on abortion access in three ways:

–  It prevents any government-run plan from offering abortion coverage, even if women pay for the service with their own premiums;

–  It prohibits participants in a proposed health insurance exchange from receiving abortion coverage if they also receive government subsidies available to low- and moderate-income earners;

–  It requires private insurance companies in the exchange to only provide abortion as supplementary coverage.

The practical result of the Stupak-Pitts amendment would mean “a new norm of exclusion” for abortion coverage, according to a recent analysis by George Washington University’s School of Public Health.

At the end of his op-ed, Rep. Stupak writes that the American people “do not want taxpayer dollars financing abortion.” On this, he is absolutely wrong. According to research conducted by the National Women’s Law Center this year, the majority of Americans do support abortion coverage in healthcare reform legislation:

Voters overwhelmingly support the broad outlines of reform and requiring coverage of women’s reproductive health services.  Seven-in-ten (70%) favor a proposal that establishes a National Health Insurance Exchange with a public plan option. If the reform were adopted, voters overwhelmingly support requiring health plans to cover women’s reproductive health services (71% favor-21% oppose).

Absent coverage for women’s reproductive health services, majorities oppose reform. If reform eliminated current insurance coverage of reproductive health services such as birth control or abortion, nearly two-thirds (60%) would oppose the plan and nearly half (47%) would oppose it strongly.

Even in the face of opposition arguments, majorities support requiring coverage of abortions under reform.  After hearing strong arguments both for and against covering abortion under reform, two-thirds (66%) support coverage, agreeing that health care, not politics, should drive coverage decisions. A majority of voters (72%) reported that they would feel angry if Congress mandated by law that abortion would not be covered under a national health care plan.

Congress is certainly hearing from that majority of voters right now, which explains the rejection of the anti-choice amendment to the Senate bill and Rep. Stupak’s defensive (and untrue) op-ed. Moving forward, we will continue to work to ensure that abortion coverage is not carved out of healthcare reform efforts and thank those legislators who are not willing to throw women’s basic reproductive healthcare under the bus. You can take part by thanking your senators, if they voted to table the amendment, or explaining to your elected officials why the Stupak-Pitts amendment goes further to restrict women’s access to abortion than any previous legislative effort.


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One Response to Update on Abortion Access in Healthcare Reform

  1. Hank says:

    I worry about the Healthcare Law. Will it cause dehabilitating reprocussions to my families well being? How do the benefits outweigh the negatives?

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