On Saturday November 7, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Affordable Health Care for All Americans Act and set the ball rolling for the Senate to take up its version of the reform bill last week.
While passage of HR 3962 was certainly a victory for all proponents of meaningful health insurance reform, I remain deeply troubled by a provision in the bill that would restrict a woman’s ability to get an abortion.
The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-MI, Brad Ellsworth, D-IN and Joe Pitts, R- PA, would prohibit insurers that sell plans through a new government-run “exchange” from offering policies covering elective abortions to people who receive federal subsidies for their premiums. Under the bill, women with subsidized policies would be required to purchase separate abortion-only “riders” for their plans or go without coverage.
Because no woman I know “plans” to have an unintended or medically complicated pregnancy- if this is even possible-I suspect that few women would decide in advance to purchase the rider. Those women for whom the unexpected happens are thus put in a terrible position; the consequences are steep, no matter what she decides. She must either pay for the extremely costly abortion procedure at market value or carry out a pregnancy, which she does not want and is legally free to terminate.
To put it another way, this measure would effectively prevent a woman from accessing a legal medical service, making the best choice for her and her family, and protecting her privacy and personal health.
Unfortunately, a majority of my colleagues voted to pass the Stupak amendment, with a final tally of 240-194. At the end, the measure enjoyed the endorsement of every Republican in the House except John Shadegg (who voted present) and sixty-four House Democrats. I’m proud to say that I voted against the amendment.
The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which I sponsored last spring, is a measure that would prevent this kind of infringement on women’s rights. FOCA would codify the central holding of Roe v. Wade into law and affirm that neither the federal government nor the state may interfere with a woman’s right to choose. FOCA also contains a provision that would prohibit states and the federal government from meaningfully restricting access to abortion services through the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services or information. This is especially important in states like Virginia, where targeted restrictions on abortion providers (“TRAP” measures) are common.
In addition to the Freedom of Choice Act, Congress can take other steps to promote a responsible strategy to reducing abortion rates in the United States. Common sense legislation such as the Prevention First Act and the Responsible Education About Life Act, which embrace a policy of prevention rather than prohibition, are far better alternatives to measures like the Stupak amendment.
As the debate on the health care bill progresses in the Senate and the abortion issue continues to play out in the court of public opinion, Americans should do all that they can to ensure that the final vote comes down on the side of the nation’s women- and against the Stupak amendment.
And if it happens that the final bill goes to the House floor with the Stupak language still included, I intend to vocally oppose it. But for now, I hold out hope that the American people and their elected representatives won’t let it get that far.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.