Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Update on Health Care Reform Debate

It doesn't take more than a glance at the local newspaper or the TV news to know that the health care debate is heating up. If you're not tuned in to the debate already, you should be. Reform of the health care system is going to affect everyone. Abortion has become a big issue in health reform, and today's debate in the Senate Finance Committee showed it. Senators
voted down an anti-choice amendment from Republican Senator Orrin Hatch (Utah) to force women participating in his health insurance exchange to buy separate abortion care. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) was right to call the measure “offensive.” Abortion is a safe, legal medical procedure. Nearly one in three women will have had an abortion by age 45. Restricting access to needed health care creates huge obstacles for women with the fewest resources and creates unnecessary stigma. Fortunately, it was defeated 13-10.

The defeat of this amendment has good implications for health care reform, since the Committee plans to stop debating about coverage and start debating how to finance the plan. However, the whole of Congress is still arguing about abortion care and how it should be funded. The New York Times reports:
At least 31 House Democrats have signed various recent letters to the House speaker,Nancy Pelosi, urging her to allow a vote on a measure to restrict use of the subsidies to pay for abortion, including 25 who joined more than 100 Republicans on a letter delivered Monday.

Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan, a leading Democratic abortion opponent, said he had commitments from 40 Democrats to block the health care bill unless they have a chance to include the restrictions.

One of the reasons the Hatch Amendment didn't pass in the Senate Finance Committee despite the threats of a vocal anti-choice contingent of legislators is that the Senate Finance Committee bill does not provide federal funds for abortion beyond the strictures of the infamous Hyde Amendment, 33 years old today. The Hyde Amendment only allows federal funding for abortions in instances of rape, incest, or when a woman’s life is endanger and excludes coverage for medically necessary abortions. Abortion care would be covered under some insurance plans, but private dollars (from premiums) would be used to pay for it. Furthermore, nobody would be forced to pay premiums that provided for abortion care, because everyone would have the option of getting a plan with abortion care coverage or without. The Center for American Progress has an excellent summary about this issue.

We should not single out abortion care from the rest of health care. But the Hatch Amendment represents another level of discrimination- saying women do not deserve abortion care at all. The right to choose is meaningless without the ability to access care. Denying coverage of abortion in the new health care plan will be a major step backwards for women's health, yet the promise of health reform is to improve health care for the entire nation. Tell your representatives to protect women’s health care including abortion care in health reform.

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