Abortion Remains A Foil for Opponents of Reform

Amanda Marcotte

All the sexual health-specific sturm und drang around the process of health reform over the past few months has resulted in a set of bills all of which that take roughly the same “abortion neutral” approach.

All the sexual health-specific sturm und drang around the process of health reform over the past few months—hysterical
anti-choice protests, representatives spreading false stories about school
field trips to get abortion
, and Senators pushing to restore
abstinence-only funding
—has resulted in a set of bills all of which that take roughly
the same approach to abortion, what some call an “abortion neutral” approach. 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, for example, included the Capps Amendment, under which private insurers would not use
federal money to pay for abortion, but nor would these private insurers be required to drop
abortion coverage they now offer.  Bills coming from the other House committees and the Senate
have similar language.  In
addition, the Capps Amendment has a gimme for anti-choicers—each state
exchange would be required to offer abortion hysterics at least one plan that
doesn’t cover abortion (so they won’t be tempted, I suppose).  This represents an improvement for
Fetus People everywhere, as most of them currently are paying into insurance
systems that cover abortion, though probably most don’t realize it.  After all, even for the most diehard
anti-choicers, abortion seems only to matter when it can be used as a cudgel
for a larger right wing agenda.

In order to maintain an abortion neutral stance, the Capps
Amendment would require that insurance companies bookmark all money coming in
from federal subsidies as non-abortion money, and only pay for abortions out of
privately paid premiums.  Since
this would require further bookkeeping, I was concerned that insurance
companies would simply forgo covering abortion, rather than pay to keep track
of what money they can and can’t use to cover abortion. But I contacted the
National Partnership for Women and Families, who has been doing the hard work
of keeping track of all the complicated details of the various bills and their
potential effects, and they pointed out that the Capps Amendment requires there
to be at least one insurance company that does provide abortion and one that
doesn’t in each state exchange, and this creates an incentive for insurance
companies who already cover abortion to keep doing so.  (However, this provides no more than
incentive—the amendment doesn’t give the government power to require that any
one company does provide abortion coverage.) That, and insurance companies are
used to endlessly complex bookkeeping, so adding one more requirement
separating this pool of money from that wouldn’t be too difficult for

All of this hard work on creating an abortion neutral stance
might be for naught, however, as some (invariably male) members of Congress are
promising to fight for abortion restrictions to be injected in the bill during
the debate process.  The House
Rules Committee could put a stop to such amendments, so the greatest
danger lies in the Senate, where Orrin Hatch has indicated he will try
to amend the bill so that it prevents any insurance company in the system from
covering abortion, no matter whose money they use to fund it.

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If he succeeds, this would strip abortion coverage from
millions of American women who currently have that coverage under private
insurance.  To make things worse, I
have no doubt that such a victory would do nothing to satiate those who are
screaming about how health care reform will turn the nation’s women into a sea
of hussydom; they will simply move onto to protesting contraception coverage in
the bill.  And since they’ve got no
problem lying about what’s in the bill now—see again rumors about abortion
clinics being established in schools—stringent bans on abortion funding will
not keep the right wing rumor mill from churning out stories about how health
care reform means federal funding for abortion.  For pro-choice congresspersons tempted to give in on abortion to
move this thing forward, please remember this:  Our opposition isn’t constrained by the truth, and they’ll
happily keep spreading misinformation about abortion funding if that’s what it
takes to keep the protesters active and pressure high to kill health care
reform altogether.

Right now, an amendment that would require insurance
companies to drop coverage for abortion looks unlikely.  A coalition of 40 anti-choice House
Democrats, led by Rep. Bart Stupak, are making
factually incorrect claims
about the Capps Amendment and abortion
subsidies, in order to push for a bill that would strip women of
already-existing abortion coverage. 
Stupak has threatened that a bill without a ban on abortion coverage
would be voted down by this contingent of badly-informed anti-choice Democrats,
but in reality, this seems unlikely. 
There might be a few Democrats willing to destroy health care coverage
in order to force unwilling women to give birth, but at the end of the day, I’m
sure most of them aren’t looking forward to being held accountable for stopping
legislation that would relieve the voting public of many of their health care

Anyone who uses abortion as a weapon to stall or kill health
care reform should be ashamed to use such a feel-good term as “pro-life” to
describe themselves. The only people demonstrating respect for life in this
debate are the people who want to pass health care reform that will save actual
human lives.  The willingness of so
many anti-choicers to subject the public at large to escalating health care
costs and lack of coverage in order to send a dogma-inspired message of disapproval
for citizens’ private sexual choices should make it clear that they’re far from
being anything even resembling “pro-life.”  After all, if you were really such a fan of life, you would
put life and the saving of it before petty, reactionary attitudes about sex and
gender roles that inspire all this anxiety over abortion.  It’s time for our representatives to
stop pandering to the public’s impulse to lay sexual judgments, and start doing
their job of protecting the public’s actual interests.  And right now, we the people need
better health care coverage.  

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