The news of a health care bill making its way through the house yesterday turned out to be a giant failure. Yes, the bill includes a public option. The bill encompasses a plethora of other much-needed benefits as well, however; the religious right, along with a slue of spineless democrats, managed to push through the Stupak Amendment, effectively sidelining women’s reproductive rights in favor of a bankrupt political agenda.
The provision would block federal subsidies for insurance companies that cover abortion procedures. Such a restriction threatens to deprive women of access to vital health care services. In addition, it would eliminate any incentive for insurance companies to provide abortion services. They would be forced to give women’s health the axe in favor of qualifying for federal subsidies. Insurance companies will do anything to compete in a newly expanded market of subsidies, which inevitably means that women would lose coverage for abortion.
You can start by thanking The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. They took it upon themselves to assume a primary role in attaching abortion restrictions to the health care bill. Apparently Catholic Bishops are running our country now. Who knew. The antichoice lobby, with support of the Catholic Bishops, made it very clear this past weekend their willingness to stop at nothing to ensure the implementation of their bankrupt values, which happen to be shared by very few Americans. What we witnessed on Saturday night was nothing short of an exploitation of the democratic party’s vulnerabilities. Allowing one of the most publicized and influential bills to pass through the Senate without eliminating the severe crackdowns on women’s autonomy, will have devastating consequences for women’s health.
If the electorate continues to value the right to choose as a bargaining chip to be sacraficed when things get tough, women’s lives are in serious danger. Constitutional protection of reproductive rights will not secure access to abortion in this case. The Stupak Amendment will be a significant set back in federal law, sending a clear message that this country does not value reproductive self-determination. Here is a list of a few restrictions included in the amendment.
1. It effectively bans coverage for most abortions from all public and private health plans in the Exchange: In addition to prohibiting direct government funding for abortion, it also prohibits public money from being spent on any plan that covers abortion even if paid for entirely with private premiums. Therefore, no plan that covers abortion services can operate in the Exchange unless its subscribers can afford to pay 100% of their premiums with no assistance from government “affordability credits.” As the vast majority of Americans in the Exchange will need to use some of these credits, it is highly unlikely any plan will want to offer abortion coverage (unless they decide to use it as a convenient proxy to discriminate against low- and moderate-income Americans who tend to have more health care needs and incur higher costs).
2. It includes only extremely narrow exceptions: Plans in the Exchange can only cover abortions in the case of rape or incest or “where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death.” Given insurance companies’ dexterity in denying claims, we can predict what they’ll do with that language. Cases that are excluded: where the health but not the life of the woman is threatened by the pregnancy, severe fetal abnormalities, mental illness or anguish that will lead to suicide or self-harm, and the numerous other reasons women need to have an abortion.
3. It allows for a useless abortion “rider”: Stupak and his allies claim his Amendment doesn’t ban abortion from the Exchange because it allows plans to offer and women to purchase extra, stand-alone insurance known as a rider to cover abortion services. Hopefully the irony of this is immediately apparent: Stupak wants women to plan for a completely unexpected event.
4. It allows for discrimination against abortion providers: Previously, the health care bill included an evenhanded provision that prohibited discrimination against any health care provider or facility “because of its willingness or unwillingness to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.” Now, it only protects those who are unwilling to provide such services.
In the status quo, 87 percent of employer plans include abortion coverage. One in three women will have an abortion in this country at least once in their lifetime. The Stupak Amendment seeks to completely marginalize women by excluding them from access to basic health care. In fact, this bill is worth nothing if women are not given the right to make autonomous choices about their bodies. If women don’t have the freedom to determine the outcome of a pregnancy, every aspect of their lives are negatively impacted. If the end result of health care reform does not include reproductive justice, women will be further disenfranchised in the health care system. I just hope the senate will do the right thing and give this amendment the middle finger.
Andrew (AJ) is a vehement progressive, youth activist, and reproductive justice organizer. When he's not busy with the movement, you can usually find him dancing in the club or watching trashy reality tv.