Op-ed column: Possible abortion amendment would be detrimental to women

Abortion is a difficult and morally complicated issue for many people. However, we cannot allow the

“I don’t want my tax dollars used for abortions!” I’ve heard that comment quite a bit lately during discussions on health care reform.

Why single out abortion care? The response is often: “Women should accept personal responsibility for their choices. I shouldn’t have to pay for them.”

Well, based on this argument, we should not have to pay for coverage that provides health care for those suffering with smoking-related illnesses: cancer, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Nor should we have to pay for coverage for alcohol-related illnesses: liver disease, pancreatitis or recovery program costs. Ditto, heart disease and diabetes, linked to poor food choices, obesity and sedentary lifestyles. Don’t even get me started on the issues surrounding universal insurance coverage for Viagra.

This is a slippery slope. As a society, where do we draw the line between so-called “morality issues” and medical services? Who decides what is careless and what is covered?

Certainly, abortion is a difficult and morally complicated issue for many people. However, we cannot allow the personal beliefs of some to determine health policy for all.

Who pays? Well, that depends on whether you’re talking about public funding or private funding for abortion care.

Let’s start with public money. For the past 30 years, federal funds have not been used for abortion care (except in the case of rape, incest or threats to the woman’s life). This means that Medicaid recipients, federal government employees, U.S. military personnel and their families’ health insurance are denied coverage for abortion care. This abortion ban, known as the Hyde amendment, has been included in annual appropriations bills for decades in Congress.

As you’re reading this, Congress is debating the Stupak amendment, which is more far-reaching and restrictive than Hyde. The Stupak amendment seeks to deny the use of private money for abortion care, not just public money. This amendment will strip women of abortion care coverage they currently have in the private marketplace. Right now, the majority of employer-based health insurance plans already cover basic reproductive health care, including abortion.

This means that women will be worse off after health care reform than they are now. The Stupak amendment would severely restrict access to abortion coverage in the newly created health care exchange. It undermines the ability of millions of women to purchase private health insurance that covers abortion, even if they pay for all or most of the premiums with their own money. Enrollees in the public plan would also pay premiums with their own money, yet the public plan would be forbidden from offering abortion care as part of its benefits package.

This proposal gets even worse. If women want coverage for abortion services, the Stupak amendment requires they buy a separate policy, a “rider,” before an unplanned pregnancy. Who plans an unplanned pregnancy? This is ridiculous and discriminatory. We don’t expect people to purchase supplemental coverage just in case they might get cancer.

What’s the bottom line? The Stupak amendment is a giant step backward for women and bad policy.

What’s really going on? Women’s reproductive rights are being used as a bargaining chip for health care reform. We live in a pluralistic society and must not let our citizens and politicians be bullied by powerful interest groups seeking to dictate public policy based on one religious viewpoint.

What’s the latest? The good news is that the U.S. Senate just passed its health care reform bill without an abortion ban. The bad news? The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed its health care reform bill with an abortion ban (the Stupak amendment).

What happens next? The House and the Senate must reconcile their health care reform bills, then send this final legislation on to President Obama. Word is that the president wants this legislation on his desk before he gives the State of the Union address in January. The final piece of legislation must not include abortion ban language from the Stupak amendment.

Call to action: This means it’s urgent that you contact your elected representatives and tell them real health care reform must include women’s reproductive health.

Linda Scharf is communications director for Planned Parenthood of Mohawk Hudson.

Categories: Opinion

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