Will you lose insurance coverage for abortion?

Health care "reform" could make things worse for women than they were under Bush

Published September 30, 2009 5:31PM (EDT)

Ever since last November, women's rights advocates have been warning that when it comes to reproductive justice, even the election of a gag-rule-repealin' president hardly means that we can now just mix up an Obamatini and call it a day. If anything, we've seen newly galvanized state legislatures and abortion opponents take it up a notch or nine, resulting in not only the assassination of Dr. George Tiller but also the very real possibility that health care reform will leave women with even less access to abortion than before.

"Health care reform was supposed to be about expanding care, making sure that people get the basic comprehensive care they need to live healthy lives. The Obama Administration also promised that no one would lose the coverage they currently have," Stephanie Poggi, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, told Broadsheet today. "Yet, unless we're able to really turn things around, millions of women are in great danger of losing coverage they already have -- and this country is in danger of expanding inequality, instead of affordable coverage."

She adds: "If abortion is excluded from new public subsidies for health care reform, this will be an expansion of abortion restrictions. And an expansion of the restrictions that target poor women, who are disproportionately women of color."

Specifically, as the New York Times (finally) reported yesterday, "Abortion opponents in both the House and the Senate are seeking to block the millions of middle- and lower-income people who might receive federal insurance subsidies [for] health coverage from using the money on plans that cover abortion. And the abortion opponents are getting enough support from moderate Democrats that both sides say the outcome is too close to call. Opponents of abortion cite as precedent a 30-year-old ban on the use of taxpayer money to pay for elective abortions." (That is: the loathsome Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of Medicaid funding for abortion.) 

 Here are the problems, summarized with NNAF's help:

1. If abortion is not included in the minimum benefits package of what's being called the "exchange," many insurance companies that currently cover abortion may drop it in order to save costs.

2. The Capps Amendment (whose language has been integrated into House and Senate proposals) tries to protect at least some abortion coverage by proposing that private money be segregated from public subsidies for lower income people, and that every market must offer at least one plan that covers abortion and one that doesn't. But right now, the majority of health plans do cover abortion, so this compromise could encourage many companies to take the opportunity not to provide coverage, thus leaving women with fewer options.

3. Poor women in this country already struggle to come up with the cost of paying for abortion. "It's a terrible thing that the Congress plans to not only continue this ban, but to extend it to the many more women who may be enrolled in Medicaid if eligibility is expanded," says Poggi.

Also terrible: The fact that the key talking points of the anti-abortion brigade  get the ignoble "Pants on Fire" rating from Politifact.  (The "death panel" stuff, though: that's true.) The online comments I've seen that say things like, "I don't think the government should interfere with people's lives, but I hope those Planned Parenthood people don't derail health care reform over this bagatelle." The fact that the same people blowing the public option to smithereens have no problem with "government control" when it comes to women. (Especially when that "control" could arguably drive health care costs up.) No irony there, folks. Move along.

Says Poggi: "Health care for women, which includes access to abortion, is not a frill, nor should it be a political football. It's absolutely essential." And yet. The Hyde Amendment, it should be noted, does not in itself prohibit Congress from enacting health care reform that would include public funding for abortion. We see now, of course, that any attempt to do so would go over like a white-hot flaming lead balloon. Still, there's plenty of room for broader dismay. Says Poggi: "The Administration and Congress are clearly not willing to go to bat for abortion coverage for low-income women. It would be a terrible shame to have the Obama Administration preside over greater losses in access to abortion than we saw under George Bush. But unless our voices are heard, that may well be the result."

Planned Parenthood is asking supporters for "emergency contributions" to help them do just that; click here. Also see MomsRising.org's demand for "real health care reform" for children and families.

UPDATE/Upside: The Senate finance committee defeated not one but two anti-abortion amendments this morning.


By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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