In Saturday’s historic vote in the House of Representatives for the passage of the health care reform bill, a major blow was dealt to the progressive movement. The Stupak/Pitts amendment was passed and went a long way to take away a women’s right to choice.
Jessica Arons of the Center for American Progress Action Fund outlines exactly what this amendment does in her post in the Wonk Room.
1. It effectively bans coverage for most abortions from all public and private health plans in the Exchange: In addition to prohibiting direct government funding for abortion, it also prohibits public money from being spent on any plan that covers abortion even if paid for entirely with private premiums. Therefore, no plan that covers abortion services can operate in the Exchange unless its subscribers can afford to pay 100% of their premiums with no assistance from government “affordability credits.” As the vast majority of Americans in the Exchange will need to use some of these credits, it is highly unlikely any plan will want to offer abortion coverage (unless they decide to use it as a convenient proxy to discriminate against low- and moderate-income Americans who tend to have more health care needs and incur higher costs).
2. It includes only extremely narrow exceptions: Plans in the Exchange can only cover abortions in the case of rape or incest or “where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death.” Given insurance companies’ dexterity in denying claims, we can predict what they’ll do with that language. Cases that are excluded: where the health but not the life of the woman is threatened by the pregnancy, severe fetal abnormalities, mental illness or anguish that will lead to suicide or self-harm, and the numerous other reasons women need to have an abortion.
3. It allows for a useless abortion “rider”: Stupak and his allies claim his Amendment doesn’t ban abortion from the Exchange because it allows plans to offer and women to purchase extra, stand-alone insurance known as a rider to cover abortion services. Hopefully the irony of this is immediately apparent: Stupak wants women to plan for a completely unexpected event.
4. It allows for discrimination against abortion providers: Previously, the health care bill included an evenhanded provision that prohibited discrimination against any health care provider or facility “because of its willingness or unwillingness to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.” Now, it only protects those who are unwilling to provide such services.
This amendment goes far beyond the federal funding protections already present in the bill. The bill had expressly said that no federal funds could go towards funding abortions. Additionally religious objectors already had their way out of participating and letting health expenditure go to the exchange.
In the house bill, if you object to the purchase of insurance, essentially the health reform efforts, you can check a box on your taxes and become a “consciences objector” based on your religion. You face no fine or penalty. This provision was added for those who objected to abortion. Now? What’s the point?
Religious groups are permitted to object to taxes when the government is unable to prove a strong necessity for the tax. True, there may be a legal question with certain religions, such as the Amish. However, without the ability to bring abortion into the argument, the government has a much stronger case for health insurance as a necessity.
While it is imperative that the Stupak amendment is dropped from the final bill, there is no reason why the anti-abortion groups should be given both. Take note conferees.
By Emma Sandoe