Welcome to abortion's middle ground

The Senate's proposed healthcare bill may not be perfect, but it sure looks good after Stupak-Pitts

Published November 19, 2009 9:01PM (EST)

Ah, compromise! There's nothing like an extreme assault on women's reproductive rights to make you truly appreciate moderation. On Wednesday night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced the proposed Senate healthcare bill, which trades the House's stringent Stupak-Pitts language in favor of a limited ban on federal funding of abortions. Essentially, the bill applies the restrictions found in the Hyde amendment to the healthcare bill. Stupak supporters may claim their amendment accomplishes the same thing -- but, as we've repeatedly written in Broadsheet, it goes much farther.

The key details of the Senate bill are as follows: Both public and private plans are allowed to offer abortion coverage. It empowers consumers to use government subsidies to purchase insurance that covers abortion, but requires that their premiums (and not federal funds) pay for the actual procedures. The Health and Human Services Secretary is charged with evaluating plans to ensure that taxpayers do not pay for abortions. And, while the bill requires at least one plan in each state to cover abortion, it also includes a conscience clause stating that healthcare providers cannot "be discriminated against because of a willingness or an unwillingness ... to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions."

It's a true compromise bill. Meaning, it seems, that now both sides have something to be unhappy about. Doug Johnson, the National Right to Life Committee's legislative director, issued the following statement last night: "Reid has sought to please the militant minority that demands funding of abortion through federal programs, even though substantial majorities of Americans believe that abortion should be excluded from government-funded and government-sponsored health programs." Along similar lines, anti-choice Sen. Ben Nelson told The Hill: "I think you need to have it eminently clear that no dollars that are federal tax dollars, directly or indirectly, are used to pay for abortions and it needs to be totally clear." Presumably, "eminently clear" means Stupak-Pitts.

On the other side of the divide, a press release from NARAL Pro-Choice America said President Nancy Keenan is "encouraged that the Senate bill does not include the extreme new anti-choice restrictions adopted by the U.S. House" but notes that "the legislation includes a compromise that continues existing laws that unfairly single out abortion care, including a ban on federal funding." Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, was more supportive of the bill: "It is absolutely critical that the compromise language in the Senate bill prevail in any health reform legislation," she said in a statement. Lest you think she's perfectly happy with the new bill, Northup added, "Women have compromised their needs substantially to pass the bill, and Senator Reid's merged bill contains even more stringent segregation of funds and other requirements to ensure that no federal money will pay for abortion services. Enough is enough, and there can be no further weakening of protections for women and their healthcare needs." Now that's a choice -- ehem -- note to end on.

Update: More pro-choice organizations have weighed in on the Senate bill. Consistent with the comments above, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, just issued the following statement:

The Senate bill ensures that no federal funds will pay for abortion, which is in keeping with the 33-year consensus based on the passage of the Hyde amendment in 1976. While we don’t agree with Hyde or approve of the fact that the Senate bill singles out abortion from all other medical procedures, we believe that the Senate bill respects the Hyde consensus, while allowing women with private health insurance the choice of plan, coverage, and providers.

Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, however, took a more aggressive stance. "The Senate version of the health care bill, released last night, purports to be less harsh, but make no mistake: the anti-abortion provisions of this bill are harmful to women. What's worse, we know there will be an attempt to amend the Senate bill to go all the way with a provision mirroring the House's Stupak-Pitts Amendment," she said in a statement. "Anti-abortion measures have no place in health care reform!"

By Tracy Clark-Flory

MORE FROM Tracy Clark-Flory

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Abortion Broadsheet Harry Reid Healthcare Reform