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Monday, December 21, 2009

Health bills would erode women's right to choose

Right now, if you are a woman and you are insured through an employer’s health insurance plan, it’s likely that you have abortion coverage. Like most women, you may never plan to use it, but in reality, each year around 1.3 million unintended pregnancies end in abortion. According to the National Abortion Federation, the professional association of abortion providers:
If current rates continue, it is estimated that 35% of all women of reproductive age in America today will have had an abortion by the time they reach the age of 45.
These numbers mean that there is a shockingly high chance that you or someone you know will someday feel grateful for having that coverage.

No matter how you feel about abortion, it is a common medical procedure and an integral part of reproductive health services for women. Having access to abortion allows women to control the course of their lives, and this access is a hard fought right whose existence is constantly being jeopardized.

With the Senate days away from passing its health care reform bill, and with the passage of the Stupak amendment in the corresponding House bill, it’s looking like that right could be severely limited for millions more American women. Today, thanks to the Hyde amendment, the seven million women of reproductive age who are on Medicaid have no abortion coverage. These are the poorest of America’s poor. That’s right. The women least able to support a child or pay for an abortion aren’t covered, and if Congress passes its current health reform bills, they will be joined by millions more poor, and for the first time, middle class women.

The Congressional health care bills would create a new health insurance exchange where people can purchase quality, affordable health coverage, usually with the help of government subsidies. The Stupak amendment, a kick in the teeth from Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak to his Democratic base, prohibits insurance plans offered in the new health care exchange from including abortion coverage if they receive federal money. That limitation would actually exclude most plans from offering coverage because most customers will use government subsidies to purchase their insurance.

On its face, the Senate’s proposal looks better than the House’s, but it too would ultimately shut exchange consumers out of abortion coverage. The National Organization for Women opposes the bill:
A nearly 400-page Manager's Amendment offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), being debated currently, contains a provision every bit as bad as the infamous House-passed Stupak-Pitts Amendment. The provision…is a complicated variation of Stupak-Pitts. It allows any state to prohibit abortion coverage in health insurance exchanges. In addition, all funds that would pay for abortion services would have to be segregated from other private funds and federal subsidies. This requirement would apply to the tens of millions of women who would buy their insurance under the new exchanges and, in the opinion of expert health policy analysts, would mean that insurers simply would not provide abortion coverage in the exchange plans. Eventually, insurers would stop offering abortion coverage altogether.
A George Washington University analysis of the impact of the Stupak amendment concluded that given the expectedly large number of participants in the insurance exchange, added to the abortion exclusion already in Medicaid, the health insurance industry will eventually reach a tipping point “toward a new norm of exclusion” as it tries to meet these federal regulations. In other words, it will be easier and more profitable to just exclude abortion coverage from all insurance plans.

So, in the worst case scenario, all women could lose abortion coverage, even in private, non-government plans, making what’s already a difficult procedure, even harder to accomplish.

So, who are the women who would receive their health care coverage in the new exchange? According to Planned Parenthood they are:
  • working mothers in families that earn up to $88,000
  • women who are self-employed and paying the entire cost of their coverage and don’t have access to employer-sponsored coverage
  • young women entering the job market for the first time who are the least likely to have employer-sponsored coverage
  • women who were insured through their husbands’ employers, but now are divorced and have to purchase coverage on their own through the exchange
  • women who work in small businesses whose owners decide to seek more affordable coverage through the exchange
To conclude, long-overdue health care reform is looking possible at long last, but at what price to women’s rights? Even Republican Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, speaking in opposition to the Hyde amendment in the 1970s, recognized that, "A right without access is no right at all." Is this a compromise that we are willing to make?

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