Just now on MSNBC, Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, claimed that when it comes to abortion and health reform, "What we're trying to do is maintain current policy." As I report today in a full-length piece, current policy -- which prevents federal funds from paying for abortions for poor women on Medicaid, military women, federal employees, Peace Corps volunteers, and prisoners -- is not under threat from any of the proposed House or Senate health reform bills. In fact, reproductive rights advocates have been telling me all week that as much as they'd like to overturn the Medicaid abortion ban -- known as the Hyde Amendment -- it's just not a possibility right now. They don't have the votes.
So when opponents of abortion rights say they'd like to "maintain current policy," what they likely mean is that Hyde should also apply to any potential public health insurance plan, thus maintaining the federal government's ban on abortion funding. This would make a public plan much less attractive to women of reproductive age. A full 90 percent of current private health plans cover abortion services, and 89 percent cover contraception. According to a poll by the Mellman Group on behalf of the National Women's Law Center, 71 percent of Americans support coverage for reproductive health, including contraception, under a public plan. Sixty-six percent support coverage for abortion in a public plan. Americans hope that a public plan will provide services comparable to what they can purchase on the private market. They don't see health reform as grounds for a culture war.
If the public plan does not cover reproductive health services, it will be a weak public plan. And a weak public plan, by failing to attract a constituency, is bad for the overall goals of progressive health reform; it will mean that our employer-based system is not fundamentally transformed. Could this be the true goal of most Congressional Republicans? Hmm....