On Health Reform, Pro-Choicers Still Playing Defense.

Abortion access after health reform: I've been on this beat for several months now, and it's interesting to see how the debate has evolved. It's clear now the GOP is determined to use health reform to restrict private insurance coverage of abortion, even though 87 percent of employer-provided plans currently offer some abortion access.

This is not "maintaining the status quo." Democrats and pro-choice advocates have already agreed -- against many of their better judgments -- not to tamper with the status quo. They have pledged to maintain, in reform, all the existing restrictions on government funding of abortion for federal employees, women in the military, women on Medicaid, Peace Corps volunteers, and women in prison. Conservatives want to push that status quo significantly to the right by using limited government subsidies as a justification for interfering with the private market's coverage decisions.

Democratic Rep. Lois Capps has responded with legislation that would allow abortion funding in the public plan, financed only by patient premiums, not tax dollars. She would also allow abortion coverage in some, but not all, private plans operating within the health insurance exchanges. Sure, this is accounting alchemy. But it is abortion rights opponents who have made it necessary by using health reform as a stalking horse. Their stance is even more ridiculous when you consider that every insured, anti-choice person in America is already subsidizing other people's abortions in the private market.

A series of Obama administration officials -- including the President himself -- have put reproductive rights on the health reform bargaining table by continuously stating that government should not fund abortion, at least for the foreseeable future. The latest comes from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who appeared on "This Week" yesterday:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're saying [health reform legislation] will go beyond what we have seen so far in the House and explicitly rule out any public funding for abortion?

SEBELIUS: Well, that's exactly what the president said and I think that's what he intends. That the bill he signs will do.

It's time for Sebelius, or Obama himself, to state clearly what this means. Should women who receive affordability subsidies have the right to access abortion in either a public or private plan? Is the Capps compromise acceptable to the White House? Until we have some strong leadership on this question, debates over basic reproductive rights will continue to hold up the legislative efforts.

--Dana Goldstein

You may also like