What’s The Truth About Abortion and ‘Unresolved Issues’ In House Health Reform Legislation?

Amie Newman

Are anti-choice Democrats fighting health reform in the House over federal funds for abortion coverage or are they crying wolf - again?

Is anyone else as confused and irritated as I am about the obfuscation of the facts regarding abortion care coverage in health care reform legislation?

According to CQ Politics yesterday, a "showdown" is shaping up over abortion services, among Democrats in the House. Anti-choice Democrats are demanding that the bill "explicitly ban abortion funding." But why?

While the issue is being reported on and discussed as if its a question of whether or not to extend the current ban on federal funds for abortion services (as is layed out in the 40 year old Hyde Amendment) to any health care reform efforts currently underway, the truth is (as it usually is) much different. 

The Hyde Amendment bans federal funds from going towards abortion care. This means that government subsidy programs like Medicaid cannot cover the cost of a woman’s abortion though, of course, each state is free to pass their own laws governing how state taxpayer money can or cannot be used. This means that for women who do not have health insurance that covers abortion care or for women who have no health insurance, abortion is only an option if you cannot afford to pay out-of-pocket or if you are lucky enough to be the recipient of financial assistance from an abortion fund. 

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The Hyde Amendment is not going anywhere under health care reform. Nor does the current version of The Affordable Healthcare for America Act mandate federal funding for abortion coverage. But anti-choice Democrats in the House, led by Rep. Bart Stupak, want assurances:

The anti-abortion Democrats want to win
language that would essentially extend the existing abortion funding
ban known as the “Hyde amendment” to the new and expanded programs that
would be created by the health care overhaul. 

This is seriously coded language: "extend the…ban…to the new and expanded programs created…" What does this mean? Under current law private insurers obviously cover abortion care. And why shouldn’t they? We’re talking about a procedure that is legal and part of the scope of women’s health.

So, what are anti-choice legislators up-in-arms about? What does this coded language really mean?

(And, before I go on, please take a moment to sit and meditate on the fact that this – this– is what some activists are spending millions of dollars, countless hours and bodies full or rage focusing on. Not poverty. Not disease prevention. Not ensuring that pregnant women receive adequate coverage under reform measures. Not ensuring that our this country’s inflated mortality rate is addressed under reform. Nope.) This is what they’re using precious resources to fight:

Banning abortion coverage in private insurance as well.

Anti-choice legislators and advocates will not accept that since some private insurers (well, most) cover abortion care for women, if we have a government-funded/government-run, public option of some kind, some Americans will need to rely on a combination of both private insurance and public insurance to meet their health care coverage needs. So, for instance, if a woman who receives federal tax dollars to assist her health coverage is also a part of the private insurance pool which covers abortion, this is essentially the same as the federal government paying for abortion services. 

Although Speaker Pelosi and her team have discussed a compromise to ensure that these monies are kept entirely separate,

The compromise language is
similar to current restrictions on the use of federal Medicaid funds.
The provision would ensure that federal dollars are kept in separate
accounts when they flow into health insurance plans, and that federal
accounts could not be used to fund an abortion.

it’s apparently not enough ("too weak") for Stupak and his crew. Clearly, anti-choice legislators are using this as another opportunity to impose their political agenda upon a piece of legislation with little regard for women’s health and lives. And if anti-choice legislators were as vociferous and active as Speaker Pelosi and other reproductive justice and women’s rights activists when it came to exposing and correcting the injustices surrounding discrimination against pregnant women, mothers and domestic violence victims at the hands of insurance companies in this health reform effort, I may be less apt to call their political posturing loathsome and self-serving. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, talking about the legislation, calls the abortion coverage concern "the most important unresolved issue" as leaders attempt to bring it to the floor, reports CQ Midday

But it’s more accurate to say that it’s anti-choice Democrats – and not abortion care – that is blocking movement on this measure.

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