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Genesee Valley Chapter — Stupak-Pitts Amendment Ban Rolls Back Rights

Stupak-Pitts Amendment Ban Rolls Back Rights

By Scott Forsyth A version of this article appeared in the ‘Daily Record’ on November 25, 2009. Eliminate reproductive choice for millions of low- and middleincome women, or various pro-life groups will use their power to kill health care reform. That was the quandary in which the leadership of the U.S. House found itself Nov. 7. The leadership caved, and that night brought to the floor the Stupak-Pitts amendment to the its version of the health care reform bill, H.R.3962. The amendment passed 240 to 19, with 64 Democrats voting in favor. When H.R. 3962 passed an hour later, women’s reproductive choice had been set back more than 30 years. A principled approach to health care reform would reflect the reality of women’s health needs. Reproductive services, including abortion, would be treated the same as any other health care service. But politics and ideology intervened. H.R. 3962 requires all persons to obtain health insurance. Those of limited means receive a subsidy to help pay for the insurance. The Stupak amendment prohibits the subsidies from going to any private plan that participates in the health care exchange that covers abortion. The amendment also prohibits the public option from offering abortion care even if the insured pays for the coverage. Such bans are unprecedented, an expansion of existing law that will deny women access to the health care they need. Supporters claim the bans maintain the status quo on prohibiting federal funds from being spent on abortions. The Stupak amendment only applies the Hyde amendment adopted in 1976, they argue. The latter amendment prohibits funds appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services from being used to pay for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment. That claim is false, however: The Hyde Amendment does not reach non-federal funds. It does not prevent partner states in the Medicaid program from paying for abortion care, for instance, as long as federal funds are not used for this purpose. Supporters talk about protecting federal funds, but they were firmly opposed to President Obama’s suggestion to end the granddaddy of all health care subsidies — the income tax deduction for premiums paid by employers and the selfemployed to health insurance companies and the exclusion from employee income of the value of the premiums. The deduction and exclusion apply to persons of every means. To appreciate the impact of the bans, consider the current state of the market. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 87 percent of employer-based insurance policies in 2002 covered abortion, and 46 percent of all workers covered by health insurance had coverage for abortion. Those numbers would fall dramatically if the bans become law. Supporters assert that women will be able to purchase a separate rider that covers abortion, but the assertion is unworkable. No woman plans to have an unintended or medically-compromised pregnancy, yet more than half of all pregnancies are so. Why should women pay extra for a service that is constitutionally protected? Who is to say insurance companies even would offer a rider? A recent study by the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University concludes the combination of the Hyde and Stupak amendments “will impose a coverage exclusion for medically indicated abortions on such a widespread basis that the health benefit services industry can be expected to recalibrate product design downward across the board in order to accommodate the exclusion.” In other words, if the bans become law, insurance companies are less likely to offer all persons a benefits package that includes abortion. It is clear supporters of the Stupak amendment used H.R. 3962 as a tool to advance their agenda of restricting the availability of abortion services to all women. The Senate has its own promoters of a similar agenda, and should resist their strong-arming. Health care reform should improve women’s health and lives, not interfere with the ability to get the health care they need.

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