New York Times Article Misses the Point(s) On Stupak Amendment

Jodi Jacobson

An article by Kathleen Seelye in today's New York Times titled "In Congress, a Predicament for Abortion Supporters," can now be added to the growing list of media analyses that fail to accurately portray the implications of the Stupak amendment should it become law.

An article by Kathleen Seelye in today’s New York Times titled "In Congress, a Predicament for Abortion Supporters," can now be added to the growing list of media analyses that fail to accurately portray the implications of the Stupak amendment should it become law.

In fact, the article misrepresents issues that were far more accurately covered in the Times own editorial on this issue a week ago.

Seelye gets the issues wrong from the get-go by framing it as a fight about federal subsidies.  

This is wrong.   As NPR pointed out this weekend, this is not
really about federal subsidies and abortion. It is about a far larger
and wider-reaching issue: insurance coverage of abortion per se.  Including the purchase of insurance policies with private dollars…in essence your fundamental right to choose your own insurance coverage.  NPR correctly noted:

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The ultimate impact of the House abortion amendment could be to change
abortion from being a procedure routinely covered by most private
insurance plans to a procedure routinely excluded – even in cases of
medical emergency
.  [italics added].

For example, Seelye’s article states the following:

The House measure would block insurance companies from selling
abortion coverage to anyone who receives a federal subsidy when they
buy insurance through the exchanges, or marketplaces, that would be set
up for individuals and small businesses. It would also ban abortion
coverage for anyone who gets her insurance through a government-run
insurance plan.

Most Americans get their insurance through their employers, and it
typically covers abortions, so they would not be affected by the
legislation’s abortion provision, for now. But because the bill
envisions eventually expanding the insurance exchange to include larger
employers, the number of women barred from getting insurance for
abortion coverage could gradually grow.

This seriously mistates the immediate effects of the Stupak amendment on women’s rights to insurance coverage for legal procedures in the United States.

Every expert on this issue and virtually every Congressperson–barring those who are part of the "old boy’s got-religion club" out there trying to "sell" the amendment as being "benign"–agrees that it goes far beyond those who receive federal subsidies and will immediately effect a large pool of self-insured people as well as those who are working in or for small businesses.

Indeed, the Stupak amendment constitutes an effective ban on
abortion coverage in the entire insurance exchange because it is applied to entire plans, not individuals.  As such, it also affects those who
do not receive any federal government subsidies and anyone who uses their own money to buy insurance. 
Moreover, in discussing the effects on individuals and eventually larger businesses, it omits the more immediate effects of banning insurance coverage offered by small business as these enter the exchange to save on insurance rates.  More people in the United States are employed by small businesses than by large companies, so the immediate effects on both individuals and businesses of the ban on insurance coverage for abortion care is immediate and wide-ranging.

By contrast, the Times editorial had it right when it explained:

The restrictions would fall on women eligible to buy coverage on new
health insurance exchanges. They are a sharp departure from current
practice, an infringement of a woman’s right to get a legal medical
procedure and an unjustified intrusion by Congress into decisions best
made by patients and doctors.

The anti-abortion Democrats behind this coup insisted that they were
simply adhering to the so-called Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of
federal dollars to pay for almost all abortions in a number of
government programs. In fact, they reached far beyond Hyde and made it
largely impossible to use a policyholder’s own dollars to pay for
abortion coverage.

If insurers want to attract subsidized customers, who will be the
great majority on the exchange, they will have to offer them plans that
don’t cover abortions. It is theoretically possible that insurers could
offer plans aimed only at nonsubsidized customers, but it is highly
uncertain that they will find it worthwhile to do so.

In that
case, some women who have coverage for abortion services through
policies bought by small employers could actually lose that coverage if
their employer decides to transfer its workers to the exchange.
Ultimately, if larger employers are permitted to make use of the
exchange, ever larger numbers of women might lose abortion coverage
that they now have.

The Seelye article also misuses a Guttmacher Institute statistic on the extent of insurance coverage for abortion.

It states:

For now, the number of those who rely on insurance to pay for an abortion seems relatively small.

The Guttmacher Institute says that of the 1.2 million abortions
among American women each year, about 13 percent — 156,000 — are
directly billed to their insurers. Most women pay out of pocket, at
least initially; an unknown number are reimbursed by their insurers
after the fact.

But Guttmacher itself points out that the 13 percent figure is misleading. Guttmacher states:

Our study included all women who obtained abortions in 2001, including women on Medicaid and those who are uninsured. If one looked only at privately insured women, the percentage of procedures billed directly to insurance companies would be substantially higher than 13%. [emphasis added].

Perhaps even more importantly, the 13% statistic does not include women who pay for an abortion up front and then seek reimbursement from their insurance provider  [emphasis added]. This is common when a medical provider does not participate in a patient’s insurance plan, as is often the case with small, specialized providers, including abortion providers.

The article also fails to address the growing anger and backlash on this issues among women voters throughout the country.

As Rachel Maddow said on Meet the Press, if this isn’t fixed, women are going to sit on their hands in the 2010 elections.  There also is mounting backlash against the Catholic Bishops and other "faith-based groups" who’ve sought to impose their own ideologies on women using legal means. 

Early warning signs are evident right now in the Massachusetts Senate special election. The candidates there are trying to get on the right side of this issue, to garner women voters support.

We are already seeing backlash against the Bishops for hijacking the health care bill for their ideological purposes.  These concerns have been amplified as  it becomes clear that the Bishops have a serious financial stake in
removing both reproductive health care of various kinds (sterilization,
abortion, contraception, fertility treatments) as well as "end-of-life"
care from the playing field on which Catholic hospitals and
institutions have to compete with secular health care insitutionts for
clients and patients.  By removing this competition, the Catholic
hospitals can corner a larger and larger share of the trillions of
dollars to be spent on health care in the coming years.  See Wendy Norris’ article on this issue for Rewire.

The only way they can do this is to remove women’s rights to make fundamental decisions about their reproductive and sexual lives, and make US law consistent with fundamentalist Catholic and Evangelical doctrine, public health be damned, so to speak.

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