COLORADO EDITORIAL FORUM
By Emilie C. Ailts and Vicki Cowart
As national health care reform faces its next hurdle -- a conference committee bill that reconciles the House and Senate bills -- we believe it's critical to draw attention to a provision contained in the House bill. This provision, brought by Reps. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and known as the Stupak abortion coverage ban, would create barriers to women's reproductive health care far worse than any encountered since the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
This new abortion coverage ban makes insurance coverage for abortion virtually unavailable for millions of women purchasing insurance plans through the newly created health insurance exchange.
Federal law already bans use of federal funds for abortions, but the Stupak measure goes much further. It denies use of private money -- not just public money -- to cover abortions.
Six of Colorado's nine-member congressional delegation, Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and Reps. Diana DeGette, Jared Polis, Betsy Markey and Ed Perlmutter, understood the danger posed by the Stupak abortion coverage ban and its Senate companion and voted against it. The remaining three, Reps. Doug Lamborn, Mike Coffman and John Salazar, voted for the House Stupak provision, choosing to strip women of health insurance benefits they already have and imposing further restrictions on their access to a full spectrum of reproductive health care services.
The Stupak amendment has real-life implications for all women obtaining health insurance through the new health insurance exchange. This exchange is intended to provide a source of affordable, quality health insurance coverage for Americans who are uninsured, self-employed or work for small businesses. In Colorado, small businesses vastly outnumber large employers and are a major force in the state's net increase of new jobs. Because so many women potentially will be insured through the exchange, millions of women would lose reproductive health care benefits they now have.
As the health care reform debate continues, our goal is clear -- to pass health care reform while stopping the Stupak abortion coverage ban. The Senate's health care proposal maintains the status quo, ensuring that no federal funds pay for abortion. While we fundamentally do not agree with this, as since 1976 this policy has codified discrimination against low-income women, we acknowledge a compromise is necessary to advance the health care reform package. Yet, we strongly oppose going beyond the status quo, which the Stupak abortion coverage ban does.
Since the onset of health care reform, President Obama often has articulated a central tenet that no one lose benefits she or he currently has and likes. The Stupak abortion coverage ban would break this promise.
Defenders of the House amendment say that women who purchase health insurance through the exchange will be allowed to buy a single-procedure insurance policy, sometimes called a "rider," providing abortion coverage. Such a provision is as discriminatory as it is illogical, and it contradicts a basic objective of health care reform -- to ensure that all Americans have the health insurance they need.
Insurance by definition should protect us from the unexpected. As with diabetes or prostate cancer, both unplanned pregnancies and complications late in wanted pregnancies are unexpected events. Women who need a legal medical procedure in these situations should not be denied coverage any more than individuals with other unexpected health needs.
We all have different opinions about abortion. However, the debate about health care reform shouldn't focus on those differences. And real health care reform shouldn't cause women to lose insurance coverage they already have for a legal medical procedure.
Health care reform provides an opportunity to advance women's health.
With the exception of the Stupak abortion coverage ban, federal health care reform efforts include many provisions of benefit to women.
They include banning gender discrimination of premium rates, protecting survivors of breast cancer from being denied coverage because of a "pre-existing" condition, and covering preventive care, e.g. cancer screenings.
The President and Congress have moved us closer than we've ever been to achieving affordable, quality health care for all. But health care reform won't be fair -- and will not succeed -- if it comes at such high cost to women.
Ailts is executive director of Denver-based NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado. Cowart is CEO & president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Colorado Editorial Forum. 12/09
Thursday, December 17, 2009