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Will Health Care Reform Protect Your Reproductive Rights?

If the Affordable Health Care for America Act comes to the floor for a vote — anti-choice lawmakers are threatening to use procedural maneuvers to derail health care reform over abortion.
Allie Bohm,
Policy Counsel,
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November 6, 2009

Well, many of us thought this day would never come: the House of Representatives is finally prepared to vote on the Affordable Health Care for America Act. It’s hard to understate the historic nature of this particular vote. President Roosevelt — the first one, in 1912 — campaigned on a promise of health care reform, and nearly 100 years later, a comprehensive health reform bill has yet to make it to the floor for a vote.

If it comes to the floor for a vote — anti-choice lawmakers, led by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), are threatening to use procedural maneuvers to derail health care reform over abortion.

Pro-choice advocates had hoped beyond hope that abortion would be treated like any other health care service during health reform. Throughout their lives, women access a broad continuum of reproductive health care services, including contraceptive services, prenatal care, and abortion, and we asked for a principled approach to health care reform that would reflect that reality. But politics and ideology have made that impossible. Instead, lawmakers have crafted a compromise position, often referred to as the Capps Amendment, that would maintain the status quo and advance neither a pro- nor anti-choice agenda — and therefore convince enough anti-choice Democrats to vote for the bill to ensure its passage.

So, the wonky details: the Capps Amendment would prohibit abortion from being included in the basic, standard health benefit package that insurance companies would have to make available under health care reform, but would require that at least one plan in the Exchange cover abortion and that at least one not cover abortion. It would also mandate that plans that do cover abortion segregate their funds and ensure that only private premiums (and not federal dollars) are used to cover abortion. The public plan would cover abortion in the case of rape, or incest, or when a woman’s life is threatened by a pregnancy (the status quo for public funding for abortion care), and the Secretary of Health and Human Services would be allowed to determine whether the public plan could cover abortion in additional circumstances. The pro-choice community has accepted this compromise even though it is hard to swallow; it is less than what women need and deserve.

But, the compromise is not enough for some anti-choice Democrats and Republicans. They want to use health care reform to impose unprecedented restrictions on women’s access to abortion in the health care system. They wish to ban any plan that receives any federal dollars from covering abortion even though abortion funding would already come only from private funds under the current compromise. By attempting to ban plans from covering abortion, they intend to curtail access to abortion services even when a woman pays for her insurance with private funds and receives no federal subsidy. In other words, they want to take away women’s access to health benefits they currently rely on.

Because the House leadership may not allow an amendment to further limit abortion access, anti-choice members have threatened to vote against the Rule that would bring health care reform to the House floor. The Rule is the language setting the grounds for debate on a bill; unless the Rule passes, the bill cannot be considered. Or if that doesn’t work, they may offer a “motion to recommit” on abortion that, if passed, would prohibit insurance companies in the Exchange from providing abortion coverage even if they want to. They are contemplating hijacking a whole bill with so much at stake for so many people over a health care service that should be a private decision between a woman and her doctor.

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