Is Abortion Going To Stop Healthcare Reform In Its Tracks?
|Newsroom - Healthcare Reform|
Healthcare reform seems to be moving along in Congress. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi appears to have a majority of Democratic representatives on Board, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is on his way to getting 60 votes in the Senate. However, there is one major issue that has the potential to derail Democrats' reform efforts: abortion. Some pro-life Democrats in Congress, like Rep. Bart Stupak are worried that the current bill will force the government to pay for abortions. It isn't a direct payment to providers that they're concerned with; rather, it's a seemingly benign subsidy meant to help low-income individuals and families purchase health insurance--either the public option or a private plan. Pro-choice leaders in Congress have already agreed to prevent recipients from using the subsidies specifically to pay for an abortion, instead leaving that expense to employer- or individual-paid premiums. Despite that provision, opponents still consider it federal funding since money can't be directly separated. Their belief is that if a woman receives a discount on a health insurance plan through a federal subsidy, she may then use the money she saved on that procedure. Technically, you could also make the argument that food stamps promote illegal drug use because they free up funds that would otherwise be used to feed people, and can instead be used to buy drugs. Stupak is planning to block the healthcare reform bill from moving out of committee unless House leaders like Henry Waxman allow him to offer a separate amendment that further prevents any of the new health care funds from being used for abortion services.
Abortion is a very controversial subject. It is the only legal health procedure with special regulations in the House's reform. Activist groups like NARAL grudgingly accepted the compromise presented by House leaders, realizing that it was probably the best they could get, but see Stupak's new proposals as a path to banning abortion coverage in the private health insurance market altogether. The 1976 Hyde Amendment already forbids the federal government from funding abortion through Medicaid, its existing public health insurance plan for low-income Americans. However, it doesn't apply to newly provided funds. Rep. Stupak's amendment would expand the Hyde restrictions to the new subsidies, offering even stronger assurance that no federal money will pay for abortion except under certain circumstances (when the life of the mother is in danger, or when rape or incest are involved). House leadership will probably try their best to block the amendment. In that case, Stupak threatens to create a coalition of representatives that will vote no on a procedural vote. That would serve to prevent debate on the House's healthcare reform bill in its entirety. States will be allowed to cover abortion services on a state-by-state basis, but using solely their own money. Some states would be more likely to provide abortions to their residents than others. Whatever your views on abortion (and I realize it's an extremely sensitive topic), that type of law is, in effect, creating unequal access. A wealthier woman's health insurance plan will cover an abortion, while poorer women will see heavier restrictions on the insurance they can buy. Granted, in the case of the subsidies taxpayers could be, however indirectly, funding a procedure they oppose; just like those who are anti-war have to pay for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Stupak's amendment would ban people from using the subsidies to buy private health insurance plans that cover abortions, as opposed to preventing only those specific funds from being used for that purpose. Why not let Stupak propose it? For one thing, it will probably result in division of the Democratic party at a time when unity is essential to reach their goal. There are quite a few pro-life Democrats that would vote for such an amendment; Stupak claims that he can get 40 Democrats on his side, which would eat up most of the party's majority in the House. Despite that, a large percentage of supporters would most likely be Republicans--who wouldn't vote for the final bill anyway, regardless of how stringent its limits on abortion funding are. In exchange, it would alienate some liberal Democrats. These representatives are relatively reliable votes, but they are already skeptical of the bill because they feel the public option doesn't go far enough. Either way, Democrats need virtually all of their caucus to vote with them on healthcare reform, and this issue will certainly be a factor in how they vote. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer claims that progress is being made on the issue, but both sides seem to be standing firm. The future of the House's healthcare reform largely rests on this issue, so it'll be interesting to see how it plays out.
(Image: number of abortions per 1,000 women, each year; Guttmacher Institute)