The Stupak-Pitts Amendment Sets Women Back!

In the aftermath of Saturday evening’s House vote on health care reform, the choice community- advocates, Members of Congress, the grassroots network- have been scrambling to understand how this 11th hour anti-abortion amendment passed and what we can do to keep the egregious language out of the Senate bill.

The Affordable Health Care for America Act, HR 3962, is an incredible step towards comprehensive health care. It will eliminate embedded discriminatory insurance practices against women, banning pre-existing conditions and gender rating, and it will expand coverage to millions of the previously uninsured. And yet, this bill is the single greatest setback for women’s rights since the Hyde amendment and with potentially worse repercussions.

The Hyde amendment banned the use of federal dollars to pay for abortions. The Stupak-Pitts amendment upholds and expands the ban on federal dollars for abortion services- prohibiting women from using their own funds to buy comprehensive coverage that includes abortion services through the new insurance exchange.
For the 60 million women in this country who have insurance in the private market, the Stupak-Pitts amendment jeopardizes the quality and scope of their health care. Insurance companies excluded from the new exchange could have difficulty competing in the private market, placing them at a financial disadvantage, why then should they continue offering abortion coverage?

To prevent the abortion issues from becoming the Achilles heal of the health care debate, we made a compromise that advanced neither the pro-life nor the pro-choice agenda.  The Capps amendment would have inserted language that was abortion neutral; abortion coverage would be excluded from the public option plan and federal subsidies could not be used for abortion services, but women could use the money from their premiums to pay for such services.

Neither side was happy with this solution, but we recognized (at least it appeared so) that health care reform should not be a vehicle to debate abortion rights in this country.

And then suddenly the Capps language was too lenient, the opposition arguing an accounting technicality could not guarantee that federal subsidies would not be used for abortions. Despite the reality-insurance companies currently have the ability to maintain two separate funding streams- fear forced the unnecessary passage of the Stupak-Pitts amendment.

The lesson to take away from this experience is that we, as advocates, cannot let our guard down. We need to spend attention and energy both on converting our opposition and encouraging our champions.

As a woman I want health care reform, but I refuse to endorse an amendment that marginalizes my right to choose and undermines my equality.

Also read: Marci A. Hamilton at FindLaw.

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