August 13, 2009


Aborting Health Reform (Without reproductive-health coverage, any public insurance plan is doomed to fail. (Dana Goldstein, August 13, 2009, American Prospect)

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama did not shy away from the issue of abortion, pledging, "On this fundamental issue, I will not yield." In the context of health reform, though, the president and his staff have been reluctant to directly address reproductive rights. In a March interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody, the White House's chief domestic policy adviser, Melody Barnes -- who once sat on the board of Planned Parenthood -- claimed she had never spoken to the president about whether abortion services should be covered under a universal health-care system. "We haven't proposed a specific benefits package or a particular health-care proposal, so we're going to be engaging with Congress to have this conversation," she said. When Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag was asked by Fox News in July whether the public insurance plan should cover abortion, he was vague. "I'm not prepared to rule it out," he said. The president finally addressed the issue himself in a July 21 interview with Katie Couric, in which he bucked reproductive rights groups by saying he would consider deferring to the "tradition" of "not financing abortions as part of government-funded health care." [...]

[T]he potential downside is stark: A politicization of which reproductive-health services insurers can cover, meaning that under anti-choice administrations, abortion and even contraceptive limitations or bans could become the norm.

For millions of American women, insurance-subsidized abortion is already off limits. After Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, one of the religious right's first successes in limiting access to the procedure was the passage of the Hyde Amendment. Since 1976, Hyde has banned Medicaid -- the federal health-insurance program for poor women and children -- from paying for abortions, except in the most extreme cases when a woman's physical health or life is in danger. Medicaid covers 7 million American women of reproductive age, or 12 percent of women in that cohort. Federal employees, members of the U.S. military, Peace Corps volunteers, and prisoners are also barred from using their government health coverage to access abortion.

During a July 14 interview on MSNBC, Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, contended that when it comes to abortion and health reform, "what we're trying to do is maintain current policy." Yet because any potential public health plan would be funded by the federal government, what anti-choicers would really like to ensure is that Hyde would also apply to any new public insurance programs.

It's not tradition, it's law.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 13, 2009 11:03 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus