House Takes Up-or-Down Vote on Stupak Amendment, Threatening Women's Rights

This post is from Jodi Jacobson's blog at RH Reality Check.

House Democratic leaders will allow an up-or-down vote on the Stupak-Pitts amendment, which seeks to block even private insurance plans from funding abortion care.

In other words, this amendment, if passed and included in a final health reform bill, would block you from getting insurance to cover legal procedures in the United States of America, with premiums paid with your personal funds. Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Women's Law Center and other groups are calling for immediate action against the amendment, and you can click here to find your representative and tell them to vote no on Stupak.

The amendment, named for Representatives Bart Stupak, D-Mich, and Joe Pitts, R-Penn.  Stupak is a so-called "Democrat for Life;" Pitts has been a dogged supporter of failed abstinence-only policies, domestically and internationally, and was among those who succeeded in adding language forbidding the provision of contraceptive supplies for HIV-positive women in US global AIDS funding.

The agreement to vote on the Stupak-Pitts amendment came after 1:00 am this morning when an effort to adopt compromise language crafted by Rep. Brad Ellsworth apparently was rejected by Stupak and his supporters.  We reported on the Ellsworth Amendment here.  Rejection of the Ellsworth Amendment makes clear the agenda of Stupak's amendment is to ban abortion care in private insurance plans, because Ellsworth provided numerous protections against the use of federal funds for abortions other than those for rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother, for all of which the law now allows federal funding.

The Hill reports that:

Liberals on the committee threatened to vote against the final healthcare bill if it included Stupak's language, warning that it would be a return to the days of back-alley abortions.

"I forsee a return to the dark ages," Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., told The Hill. "I'm 73, I've seen these dark things, they use these coat hangers and die."

"I used to think that life was black or white, but the older I get the most gray it becomes," liberal Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., told the panelists of the House Rules committee as they debated whether to allow the amendment. "I find this amendment very, very uncomfortable."

Having successfully made birth control "too controversial for health reform," Stupak, working with other "Dems for Life," the now unabashedly ultra-right Republican party and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops threatened to block passage of the health reform bill unless he got his way on the vote. His efforts are backed up by a massive organizing effort undertaken by the Catholic Bishops to mobilize ultra-conservative Catholics throughout the country. More than 85 percent of Catholics in the United States use birth control, and Catholic women have abortions at the same rate as women in the general population.

Women's rights advocates, including the speaker of the House and a majority of the Democratic caucus, support a provision in the health-care bill that would subsidize abortions for poor women who can't afford them, in keeping with current law.

"Rep. Stupak’s proposal to codify the Hyde amendment in health-care reform would force women who want comprehensive reproductive health-care coverage to purchase a separate, single-service rider," said Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. In the statement, Richards explains:

Such an "abortion rider," whereby abortion care could only be covered by a single-service plan in the exchange, is discriminatory and illogical. Women do not plan to have unintended pregnancies or medically complicated pregnancies that require ending the pregnancy. In fact, about half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, and abortion is not something that women plan to insure against. As a result, an "abortion rider" policy is unworkable. Women would not choose to purchase it, and would subsequently be unable to obtain the care they need. Proposing a separate ‘abortion rider’ represents exactly the type of government interference in the health care marketplace that conservatives purport to vehemently oppose.

For these and other reasons, "Planned Parenthood strongly opposes the Stupak-Pitts amendment which would result in women losing health benefits they have today," said Richards in a statement released early this morning. The statement continues:

This amendment would violate the spirit of health care reform, which is meant to guarantee quality, affordable health care coverage for all, by [instead] creating a two-tiered system that would punish women, particularly those with low and modest incomes. Women won't stand for legislation that takes away their current benefits and leaves them worse off after health care reform than they are today.

While Rep. Stupak claims that his amendment simply applies the Hyde amendment to health reform, nothing could be farther from the truth

In fact, "the Stupak-Pitts amendment would result in a new restriction on women's access to abortion coverage in the private health insurance market," continued Richards, "undermining the ability of women to purchase private health plans that covers abortion, even if they pay for most of the premium with their own money."

On Friday, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said passing Stupak's legislation could jeopardize passage of the bill, because abortion-rights supporters were likely to vote against a bill that includes it.


The Stupak-Pitts amendment would:

  • Prohibit individuals who receive the affordability tax credits from purchasing a private insurance plan that covers abortion, despite the fact that a majority of health insurance plans currently cover abortion.
  • Result in a de facto ban on private insurance companies providing abortion coverage in the health insurance exchange, since the vast majority of participants would receive affordability tax credits.
  • Prohibit the public option from providing abortion care, despite the fact that it would be funded through private premium dollars.

The current compromise in the bill, the Capps Amendment, already strikes the right balance between pro-choice and anti-choice interests.

It stipulates that health plans cannot be mandated to cover abortion, but they can choose to.

  • If a plan chooses to cover abortion, the compromise stipulates that no federal funds can go towards abortion, consistent with current federal policy.
  • It ensures state laws regarding abortion coverage are not pre-empted, so if states want to pass further restrictions on abortion coverage, they can.  This a significant win for anti-choice organizations.
  • Protects conscience rights of health care providers and facilities.

The following is a list of editorials in major newspapers that have opposed Stupak-Pitts and similar proposals:

An editorial in USA Today (11/2/09): “[The Stupak amendment] goes too far. It would mark a broad new expansion in the effort to restrict access to abortion. Nearly 90% of private health insurance policies now offer abortion coverage, and almost half of women with private insurance have it. But women covered under the new system would have to find supplemental insurance or pay out of pocket for an unanticipated procedure that can cost from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on complexity. For anyone unable to afford it, this would amount to a de facto ban.”

An editorial in the New York Times said (10/1/09):

“Conservative critics of pending reform bills want to prohibit the use of tax subsidies to buy any health insurance policy that covers abortion. Some want to require women to buy an extra insurance “rider” if they want abortion coverage, an unworkable approach given that almost no one expects to need an abortion, few women would buy the rider and, therefore, few insurance companies would even offer it.”

An editorial in the LA Times said (11/6/09):

“The real goal of abortion opponents isn't to maintain the status quo. It's to extend federal prohibitions into private pocketbooks. By restricting coverage offered through the exchange, they hope to make abortion coverage so unattractive that insurers eventually stop offering it in the market for individual and small-group policies.”

An editorial in The St. Petersburg Times said (11/5/09):

"Contrary to the claims of Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who has been leading the antiabortion effort, the Capps amendment would not expand federal funding for abortion. Instead it would establish some basic principles to reflect the current health insurance landscape in which nearly 90 percent of private plans offer abortion coverage."


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