Last night, pro-health care reform Senators obtained a 60-40 majority to pass the overhaul bill. The struggle to find a 60th vote ended, however, with a very troubling "compromise:" the reintroduction of anti-abortion language into the bill.
Two weeks ago, we celebrated the failure of the Nelson Amendment, an amendment that would restrict private insurance companies from providing abortion (and some contraceptive) coverage in the event they become federally-subsidized. Senator Nelson, however, continued to withhold his support for a health bill without his amendment, and the Senate capitulated last night in order to garner his support.
Senator Nelson's conditions are not moderate; he did not wish to "compromise" with his colleagues, but instead hold out until his previous conditions were met. And met they were. Throughout the health debate, it was women, not men, whose health care hung in the balance. We knew this by the staunch support for health care overhaul amongst the American people, the urgency in the language, and the cries of "Oh come on!" from even our own pro-choice comrades. I argued against choruses of, "So abortion coverage is restricted... people need basic health insurance now!" "You're just stuck on abortion; think of all the Americans who could benefit from this bill, whether or not their elective procedures are covered!" "Cancer treatment is more important than abortion care." "Why don't you guys just wait and see. We'll get health care reform now, and focus on abortion later!"
The dichotomous way in which our pro-health reform comrades spoke of abortion is perhaps most troubling. People need health care; women can get abortions later. In other words, women are not people, abortion is not health care. Or, at least, women's health care is not as important as "normal" health care, and abortion is certainly not a "normal" (or even important) aspect of health care.
And in the end, it was those dichotomous thought processes that left us in the dust. The Nelson "compromise," in the end, will harm many aspects of reproductive health care. RH Reality Check editor Jodi Jacobson outlined the implications of the Nelson language in an entry earlier today:
Pro-choice advocates are still examining the implications of the Nelson language. But conversations with several analysts over the past 24 hours suggest that if passed into law in the final health care bill, this language, at a minimum, does the following:
- Requires every enrollee--female or male--in a health plan that offers abortion coverage to write two separate checks for insurance coverage. One of these checks would go to pay the bulk of their premium, the other would go to pay the share of that premium that would ostensibly cover abortion care. Such a check would have to be written separately whether the share of the premium allocated for abortion care is .25 cents, $1.00, or $3.00 of the total premium on a monthly, semi-annual or annual basis. Employers that deduct employee contributions to health care plans from paychecks will also have to do two separate payments to the same company, again no matter how small the payment.
- Eliminates the provision in earlier versions of the Senate bill and in the original Capps language in the House bill to ensure that there is at least one insurance plan in each exchange that offers and one that does not offer abortion coverage.
- Prohibits insurance companies by law from taking into account cost savings when estimating the costs of abortion care and therefore the costs of premiums for abortion care.
- Includes "conscience clause" language that protects only individuals or entities that refuse to provide, pay for, provide coverage for, or refer for abortion, removing earlier language that provided balanced non-discrimination language for those who provide a full range of choices to women in need.
Make no mistakes, it is not just abortion that is being restricted. With the growing number of "Personhood Amendments" being considered in state legislatures, and the fact that 17 states already prohibit insurance companies from providing abortion coverage, many states could additionally see their coverage for contraception and birthing options dwindle. This, with absolutely no restriction on men's reproductive health, and a "conscience clause" that only applies to the opposition, with no comparable protection for women with limited options.
As an American who just recently went from uninsured to under-insured, I do understand the urgency to reform our health care system. I've heard tales of hardship from folks battling serious disease, families that have lost their homes in order to pay for a child's cancer treatment. But I cannot stand idly by while the urgency of some outweigh the urgency of others, especially if it is women and only women who are forced to sacrifice health benefits so that others may receive affordable care. It comes down to this: we can have comprehensive health care, and yet we are allowing the opposition of a handful of anti-choice Senators cut us down. They are the ones forcing us to ration health care, to choose between exclusionary reform or none at all. The bill in its current form is not "good enough," nor does begin to scratch the surface of what is truly needed: comprehensive health care for all.