Abortion care is part of basic health care for women. It is not up to politicians to decide whether and when we have children. But as Congress nears agreement on a historic health care reform bill, women's fundamental reproductive freedom is being threatened. Proposed restrictions on how or whether insurance companies in the proposed health care exchange could provide abortion coverage for women remain a contentious issue.
In order to move forward, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland is corralling wavering Democrats to find the votes necessary to pass the Senate's health care reform bill. Gallingly, Majority Leader Hoyer has told the press that he is negotiating with Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, who is threatening to derail health care reform unless his dangerous abortion coverage ban is included in the health care reform bill or some other "must pass" legislation.
Representative Stupak would ban anyone who participates in the health insurance exchange from buying a plan that covers abortion if she receives a federal subsidy -- even if she pays for the premium largely with her own, private dollars. Although Mr. Stupak claims to be doing nothing more than applying the Hyde Amendment -- a prohibition on federal funding of abortion -- this is not true. His amendment goes much further.
Already, the Senate bill, which the House must pass, contains an egregious and unacceptable anti-abortion provision, requiring anyone purchasing an insurance plan that covers abortion to write two separate checks -- one to pay for the cost of the abortion services and another to pay for the rest of the covered care. This is an arbitrary and burdensome requirement that stigmatizes abortion and creates hurdles for both the insurer that wants to include abortion care in its health plan and the insured person who wants the coverage. Given this restriction, it is not clear that insurers would offer abortion coverage at all. But that onerous restriction still is not enough for Mr. Stupak. Mr. Hoyer needs to tell Mr. Stupak, "no deal."
It's just common sense. By definition, no woman plans an unplanned pregnancy. No woman expects to hear that the baby she's been looking forward to holding will likely not survive the pregnancy. No woman wants to hear that carrying her pregnancy to term will seriously threaten her own health. Everyone's circumstances and health care needs are different. Each of these women should be able to decide what is best for her health and her family.
Our lawmakers should ensure that health care reform includes coverage for reproductive health care so that we all have something to fall back on when we need it most. That's what health insurance reform is all about.
Given disincentives already in the Senate bill, private insurance companies may well decide not to offer any plan in the exchange that covers abortion. This would represent a dangerous sea change. Such restrictions effectively jeopardize the abortion coverage millions of women currently have. And Representative Stupak's language would only make things worse.
We can all agree: Health care reform should improve women's health and lives -- not interfere in their ability to get the care they need. Majority Leader Hoyer must not condone this kind of government interference in a woman's most private and personal health care decisions. Marylanders should not and will not stand for it.
Sara N. Love is president of the board of directors of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. Her e-mail is email@example.com.