Friday, August 21, 2009

Setting the Record Straight: Health Care Reform and the Abortion Debate

Having trouble keeping track of the facts on health care reform? It’s certainly understandable, given the divisive tactics and rhetoric adopted by anti-choice factions. These groups are attempting to thwart compromise and instead institute a ban on abortion in privately funded plans as well as in any publicly funded options. This is the first in a three-part series that will present the facts and refute false claims made by anti-choice activists. Here is what is really going on in regard to abortion coverage in proposed health care reform measures.

FALSE CLAIM: The new health care system would mandate abortion.

FACT: None of the proposed bills mandate any type of health care service, including abortion services.

Keep in mind that the controversial public plan would not be government-funded – rather, government subsidies would be available to those of lower-income so they can afford health insurance. In line with President Obama’s common ground policy, Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) and fellow centrist House Democrats have proposed a compromise that would neither demand nor prohibit private plans from covering abortion care, but restricts federal subsidies from being used for abortion procedures.

Despite this common sense approach, House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio falsely claimed in an op-ed piece on July 23 that that the Democratic-backed health care reform plan "will require (Americans) to subsidize abortion with their hard-earned tax dollars." Politifact.org, a nonpartisan website that fact-checks politicians’ statements, pointed out that this statement is wrong. In current proposals, abortion funding would be provided with private funds through increased premiums, not through public subsidies.

Under Capps’ proposal, federal funds would not be used to fund abortions except in cases of rape, incest, when a woman’s life is in danger, in accordance with the Hyde Amendment of 1976. The Hyde Amendment’s narrow parameters jeopardize women’s health, disallowing abortions even when medically necessary to preserve her health, depriving women of timely access to treatment, and even sometimes forcing women to carry pregnancies to term. Abortion rights opponents, however, wish to extend the harsh provisions of the Hyde Amendment to any private insurance companies that participate in the government-sponsored health care exchange, thus denying consumers care that is already provided in the majority of current plans.

Also, FactCheck.org has contested a Family Research Council advertisement asserting that the health-reform bills will secretly "mandate" abortion. Even the anti-choice group Catholics United has admonished the FRC for airing the ad, urging the organization to stop contributing to the “public misinformation effort against health care reform."

Several versions of the health care reform bill are working through Congress, making it difficult to say with certainty what the final plan will or will not include. While it appears likely the plan would allow for the option of abortion coverage, there is nothing in the proposed reforms to support anti-choice claims that taxpayers would subsidize abortions.

Women should be entitled to reproductive health care regardless of their economic status. Restrictions on public funding make abortion services unavailable to low-income women by restraining reproductive health options for those who rely on the government for their health care, jeopardizing women's health and the doctor-patient relationship.

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