[Marxism] How the Stupak Amendment Radically Undermines Abortion Rights

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Nov 10 06:49:16 MST 2009

How the Stupak Amendment Radically Undermines Abortion Rights
By Rachel Morris, Mother Jones Online
Posted on November 10, 2009, Printed on November 10, 2009

Will health care reform come at the expense of abortion rights? 
The Democrats’ historic health care bill squeaked through the 
House on Saturday only after pro-life forces scored a major 
victory. Despite months of wrangling over the public option and 
the price tag, in the end the legislation’s fate turned on an 
eleventh-hour push by conservative Democrats to broaden the bill's 
existing limits on government funding of abortion, in the form of 
an amendment authored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.). Here’s what 
happened and what it means.

The Stupak amendment mandates that no federal funds can be used to 
pay for an abortion or "cover any part of any health plan" that 
includes coverage of an abortion, except in cases where the 
mother’s life is in danger or the pregnancy was the result of rape 
or incest.

The first part of the amendment isn't new. The 1976 Hyde Amendment 
already prevents the use of federal dollars to pay for most 
abortions. Where pro-lifers won big was on the second part, which 
could significantly limit the availability of private insurance 
plans that cover the procedure.

That’s because Stupak’s amendment doesn’t just apply to the public 
option—the lower-cost plan to be offered by the government. The 
House health care bill will also provide subsidies to help people 
and small businesses purchase plans on an exchange. This 
represents a lucrative new market for insurers: anyone earning 
less than $88,000 for a family of four qualifies for assistance, 
as well as certain small companies. But to gain access to these 
new customers, insurers will have to drop abortion coverage from 
their plans.

Around 87 percent of plans cover abortion (though not all 
employers choose to actually include it). But under the House 
bill, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 21 million 
people will participate in the exchanges by 2019 and that 18 
million of them will do so via government subsidies. In theory, 
insurers could create separate plans for women who don’t qualify 
for credits but still want to buy a plan on the exchange. In 
reality, this is unlikely to happen, meaning that even women who 
purchase plans entirely with their own money in the new market may 
be unable to obtain one that offers abortion coverage.

Over time, the goal is for many more people to join the 
exchanges—the bigger they are, the more effective they'll be. Not 
only will this put greater numbers of women in the same bind, it 
could affect abortion coverage in private plans outside the 
exchanges, too. "How big will exchanges have to be in an insurer's 
business model before they decide it's easier to standardize their 
coverage?" said Adam Sonfield, senior public policy associate of 
the Guttmacher Institute, a policy and research organization that 
focuses on reproductive health.

The Stupak amendment says that women are free to buy an optional 
rider to their plans that would cover abortion, as long as no 
money appropriated by the bill is used to pay for it. Critics call 
this ridiculous. People don’t think they’ll need coverage for most 
medical procedures until the day they actually need it; as 
detractors of the amendment have pointed out, no one plans for an 
unplanned pregnancy. Imagine if all insurance plans worked like a 
smorgasbord, in which you tried to guess the operations and 
medicines you might require sometime in the future. How many 
procedures would you actually fork out for in advance? Five states 
already have similar "rider" laws in place, but according to 
Sonfield, "No one seems to have come up with evidence that these 
plans are ever sold."

Proponents of the Stupak amendment insisted that they were simply 
making sure that health care reform complied with the Hyde 
Amendment. But by constricting private coverage for abortions, 
they expanded Hyde’s reach. And Stupak’s sweeping measure was 
hardly the only option on the table. Until around 8 p.m. on the 
day before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to marshal 
her caucus around an amendment offered by Rep. Lois Capps 
(D-Calif.), which would have allowed women to isolate their 
federal subsidies in a separate account and pay for abortions out 
of their premiums instead. But that compromise fell through after 
a vigorous lobbying push by the Conference of Catholic Bishops, 
which instructed priests around the country to raise the issue in 
their churches. In the end, the Stupak amendment passed 240-194, 
with 64 Democrats voting in support. (Twenty-three of those 
Democrats ultimately voted against the health care bill.)

There are two big questions as the health care reform fight moves 
to the Senate. First, will the Senate mimic Stupak? So far, its 
leading proposal contains no equivalent provision, but abortion 
foes, emboldened by their biggest triumph in years, are sure to 
push for one. Second, if a bill passes the Senate, will the Stupak 
amendment be stripped out in subsequent House-Senate negotiations? 
House Democrats’ chief deputy whip, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), 
has reportedly collected signatures from 41 Democrats vowing to 
oppose the final bill if the Stupak provision remains in. That’s 
enough to prevent legislation from passing. But 41 Democrats 
supported both the Stupak amendment and health care reform, which 
is also enough to block the legislation if all of them decided 
abortion financing was a deal-breaker. Following the House vote, 
the White House declined to condemn or support the anti-abortion 
provision. There’s no way to predict what will come next in this 
high-stakes legislative tussle, but one thing is clear: in the 
push to provide access to health care for all Americans, abortion 
is now the official political football.

Rachel Morris is the articles editor in Mother Jones' Washington 

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