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The Big To Do About Abortion

Posted Nov 06 2009 10:03pm
I've stayed away from this controversy for a long time, but since it now seems as though a major hang-up in the health insurance reform battle relates to whether federal funding will be used to pay for abortions, I feel that I should address the issue head on.

Why have I avoided the issue? I have tried to keep my former life as a pro-choice advocate separate from the work I do with Advocacy for Patients just because the abortion issue is so highly charged with politics and rancor. Although I have participated in the Connecticut Women's Health Campaign and supported efforts to protect women's reproductive health, the truth is that reproductive rights simply have not come up in the work I do on behalf of the chronically ill.

Until now.

I've seen so much misinterpretation and misrepresentation around health insurance reform that I feel I have to at least make sure that you know what the issue is and what proposals are on the table to address it.

Under current law made by the Supreme Court many years ago, the federal government is allowed to prohibit the use of federal funds for abortion. Nobody -- NOBODY -- is trying to change that in the course of health insurance reform.

The issue, though, is how to ensure that federal insurance premium subsidies, and any public option, are not used to fund abortions.

The Catholic church would like to prohibit any insurance plan sold through an insurance exchange (the marketplace that will be created where you can shop for insurance) -- including private plans, including for people who do not receive any federal subsidy -- from covering abortion. This clearly is broader than just prohibiting the use of federal funding to pay for abortions. So both the Senate and House bills try to create a way to segregate federal subsidy money from the private portion of insurance premiums and ensure that only private money is used to fund abortions.

Abortion opponents say any compromise will not guarantee that no federal funds are used to pay for abortions. Abortion rights advocates say there has to be a middle ground because a woman has a right to pay for insurance that will cover abortions with her own money.

The compromise that has been offered by Rep. Ellsworth would require that the exchange hire private contractors to administer all payments for abortion under any plan sold through the exchange to make sure that only private money is used for this purpose. As of this morning, the Catholic Bishops have said that this still isn't good enough. It's not clear what, if anything, will be.

And this is the hang-up. It is NOT the case that ANYBODY -- even Planned Parenthood, et al. -- are trying to get abortions paid for by federal money. Everybody, including Nancy Pelosi, agrees that we're not going to try to change the law on abortion funding through health insurance reform. That's a fight for another day. But pro-choice members of Congress do not want to use health insurance reform as a way to ban all abortions, either.

The issue is whether they can find middle ground. I surely would hate for this to be a major hang-up when so very much is at stake. Jennifer
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