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THE NEW HEALTHCARE BILL & ABORTION

March 30, 2010

Rep. Stupak at the signing of the exective order on abortion funding limits

Last week when President Obama signed an executive order that continued the existing limits on federal abortion funding under the new healthcare law, advocates of reproductive justice like myself were both disheartened and confused. What does this actually mean for abortion access? After all, President Obama earned endorsements in his primary campaign from both NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood. During his first week in office, he permanently repealed the Global Gag Rule, a policy enacted by President Reagan that prohibited international aid for groups that provided abortions. Yet, in the wake of pressure to pass healthcare reform, pro-choice Obama said at the signing of the executive order, “”I have said from the start that my goal was to see health care pass while maintaining the principle of the sanctity of life.” What’s going on here?!

Technically speaking, of course, women have had the right to an abortion since the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973. But the fact that it is legal for a woman to get an abortion says little about how easy it is for a woman to access an abortion. Only 13% of counties have at least one abortion provider. What’s more, since the passage of Roe, legislation intended to chip away at reproductive rights has been enacted on both a federal and state level across the country. Prohibitions like gestational limits, gag rules on the ability of counselors and doctors to provide information on abortion, and limiting access to abortions for young women to access abortion all narrow the window of abortion access. What’s incredibly crucial to the issue of access, however, is cost.

In 1977, the anti-choice movement had its first victory in the passage of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibited the use of federal Medicaid funding for abortion services and was followed by similar prohibitions at the state level. With the average abortion costing upwards of $523 out of pocket, the cost can prove to be a prohibitive for many low-income women.

But how does this change with the new healthcare bill?

Tracy Clark-Flory at Broadsheet has an excellent roundup of commentary on what the new healthcare bill will mean for abortion access. She quotes the Bronx Family Doctor on Daily Kos on the difference between the Hyde Amendment and the executive order:

“Although the Hyde Amendment is repeatedly renewed, it is not a law on the books per se. It must be renewed each year as part of the budget. This means that every year we have the opportunity to get rid of it (although we have as yet been unsuccessful). An executive order, in contrast, would put these provisions on the books until it is rescinded. It is much harder to rescind an executive order than to change language that must be inserted in the budget yearly. Really, what president would stick his neck out for the 1/3 of women who will need abortions? If we are to be guided by history, nobody.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan released a statement on the bill’s passage, noting that,

“The legislation includes an onerous provision that requires Americans to write two separate checks if the insurance plan they choose includes abortion coverage. This unacceptable bureaucratic stigmatization could cause insurance carriers to drop abortion coverage, even though more than 85 percent of private plans currently cover this care for women.”

But the statement also notes the positive changes for reproductive health services under the new bill:

“”At the same time, we recognize that the bill will bring more than 30 million Americans into a system that includes affordable family-planning services, better access to contraception, and maternity care. It also outlaws some discriminatory insurance-industry practices that make health care more expensive for women.”

I hope, then, that increased access to birth control reduces the rate of unintended pregnancies and thus reduces the rates of abortion. Yet, realistically, this decrease does not mean we should back down from fighting against the anti-choice culture we live in.

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