What the Abortion "Compromise" Means for Women

By Erica C. Barnett December 20, 2009

Democrats in the Senate, including our own Patty Murray (and presumably Maria Cantwell), have said they will support a "compromise" health care reform bill that, as usual, throws women's health care under the bus.  Here, via RH Reality Check, is what the Democrats "compromised" away to win a filibuster-proof majority (scare quotes because the bill sells out women's rights as much as Democratic Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak's amendment did):

• The new bill allows states to opt out of abortion coverage. Currently, 17 states already prohibit insurance companies from providing abortion coverage: AR, CO, ID, IL, KY, MA, MS, MO, NE, ND, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, VA, and WI.

• The new bill will require every single person enrolled in a health-care plan that provides abortion services to write two separate checks for insurance coverage—one to pay the bulk of their premium, the other to pay for the portion that would be allocated for abortion care, whether that portion is a dollar or a nickel. Essentially, the decision to purchase additional abortion coverage requires women to plan for their unplanned pregnancies (or planned pregnancies in which abortion is medically indicated)—a situation that defies logic.

Since the "separate checks" provision adds an extra accounting hurdle for insurance companies (and is totally unnecessary, from a legal standpoint, since both checks will come out of an enrollee's private funds anyway), the provision can only be seen as a way to encourage insurance companies not to provide abortion care. (It's also identical, for practical purposes, to a provision in the Stupak amendment that would have required women who wanted abortion coverage to buy a separate, abortion-coverage-only plan, in addition to their regular health care coverage.)

Currently, 87 percent of women with employer provided health insurance have plans that cover abortions. Under the language adopted by the Senate, that number is certain to decrease because of the red tape.

• The new bill eliminates proposed language that would have ensured that at least one insurance plan in each "exchange" provided abortion coverage, although it does mandate that each exchange have one plan that does not provide abortions.

• Ignoring the fact that it is undeniably less expensive, when a woman wants to terminate a pregnancy, to allow her to do so than to force her to carry the pregnancy to term, the bill prohibits insurance companies by law from considering the cost savings from abortion coverage when calculating the cost of that abortion coverage. In other words, by ignoring the cost of covering maternity health care and health care for the child, the bill unfairly paints abortion coverage as far more expensive than it is.

• In lieu of earlier language that would have ensured nondiscrimination against plans that provide a full range of women's health care services, including abortion, the new bill includes a "conscience clause" that protects only those who refuse to provide, pay for, provide coverage for, or provide referrals for abortions.

Women are being told that the "compromises" in this bill were necessary to get it passed. Maybe so. But it's getting a little hard to be patient with a Congress—and, yes, a President—so consistently willing to "compromise" away the rights of half the US population to placate religious fundamentalists like Ben Nelson. And it's only a slippery slope from the Nelson amendment to legislation that forbids federal funding of birth control, maternity care, reproductive cancer screenings, domestic-violence screenings, and routine gynecological exams—which, of course, is precisely the fundamentalists' goal.

Filed under
Show Comments