Rights Group Calls Obama’s Comments on Abortion in Health Reform “Lamentable”

For women’s rights groups who saw health reform as a chance to advance reproductive justice–including equity of access for poor women to all legal reproductive and sexual health services including abortion care–the past few months have been a serious disappointment. 

Disorganization and lack of clear leadership from the White House and Congress has left the Democrats once again ceding the conversation and the political territory to the far right.  Now, even in a compromise in which no federal funding for legal abortion services for women will be allowed, the President has been persistently reinforcing, if only rhetorically, the barriers poor women face to care, and to exercising their basic human rights to whether, when and with whom to have children.

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) is one group that has openly expressed disappointment in the process and in the President’s comments on abortion funding in his speech Wednesday to both Houses of Congress.

Nancy Northrup, the president of the Center, called for "more forthright dialogue and vocal leadership on women’s health needs in the healthcare reform debate, particularly on the issue of access to abortion.

“It is lamentable that during a major speech on healthcare reform, the President chose to reinforce a longstanding barrier to women’s ability to obtain abortion. For years, the federal government has prohibited federal funds from being used to pay for abortion except under extremely narrow circumstances—even when a woman’s health is jeopardized by her pregnancy.

The effect has been millions of women, including those living below the poverty line, military personnel and their dependents, women served by the Indian Health Service, Peace Corps volunteers, and federal employees and their dependents who rely solely on these programs for their medical care are deprived of their right to safe, legal abortion."

But, as Northrup underscored, "Reproductive health, including decisions about whether or not to have children, cut to the core of a woman’s daily reality as well as her well-being. The fact that the President can set out to have a comprehensive discussion of healthcare needs, but end up relegating an essential medical service, only used by women, to an outlier status, is disappointing to say the least.  This was a missed opportunity to re-examine the meaning of access to a full range of choices in healthcare for women."

CRR’s statement on the speech underscores that abortion is the most common surgical procedure in the United States and one in three women will have one in their lifetimes.

"Private insurers appreciate that protecting women’s health means providing women access to the full range of reproductive health services and a majority offer abortion coverage.  The Capps Amendment–which means that no federal monies will be used for abortion, but does secure access to the service–is a defensive move primarily intended to ward off hostile Congressional amendments to women’s abortion coverage. The amendment still segregates abortion from the larger field of healthcare, and should not be mistaken as sound policy.  After healthcare reform is enacted, we look forward to a forthright dialogue that puts women’s healthcare needs above politics.”

There is as yet no guarantee that the Capps Amendment–which protects the rights of women to access to abortion care under private insurance even where federal funding subsidies exist for some enrollees–will survive the legislative process and far right groups and legislators continue to mislead on the issue of abortion care in health reform. 

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  • adolmd

    We could make the discussion vague and say "Leave the decision to a non-partisan science-based panel of physicians." And based on science and fairness they should cover abortion.


    IF we go ahead and allow abortion NOT to be covered under the public option, it would be THE largest precedent EVER of NOT covering abortion and would set a horrific precedent for all the private insurance companies to NOT cover abortion. Why cover something if you don’t have to? or if the government doesn’t?


    We need to make sure that whoever decides what is covered and NOT is pro-reproductive rights, NOT just tolerant of reproductive rights.


    The current surgeon general appointee is not PRO-reproductive rights. watch out! A whitehouse spokesperson has said that "she will support the president’s policies" but we are seeing the president’s policies are not reproductive rights progressive. Rather nothing more than what Clinton did (which is better than Bush) but we can do better.

  • paul-bradford

    Even before he got elected, I predicted that Obama would disappoint Reproductive Rights advocates. He’s a thousand times more interested in getting Health Care Reform through than he is in guaranteeing that abortion services will be affordable.  


    This is how the president views things:


    If some elderly lady can’t pay for her blood pressure medication and she dies earlier than she would have otherwise, Obama is truly bent out of shape.  It honestly ticks him off that we’re the only developed country that leaves its own to die.  On the other hand, if a poor woman gives birth to a child she doesn’t want, well, he’s kind of disappointed — but not really that much.  After all, he keeps saying there’s a ‘moral dimension’ to the abortion question.  Besides, he’s committed to making sure that poor women don’t conceive unintended pregnancies in the first place.


    Obama is a smart enough politician to realize that Catholics are the ‘swing’ voters on this issue.  Unlike those on the right, we actually believe in Universal Health Care and would be happy to support it if we felt that our concerns about promoting abortion were being heard.


    Those concerns are being heard. 


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • douglasjohnson

    In asserting that the Capps Amendment "means that no federal monies will be used for abortion," the Center for Reproductive Rights repeated a claim that has been quite thoroughly discredited at this point.


    First, the basics: The independent FactCheck.org (affiliated with the Annenberg Public Policy Center) said in an analysis issued August 21, titled "Abortion: Which Side is Fabricating?": "Despite what Obama said, the House bill would allow abortions to be covered by a federal plan and by federally subsidized private plans." FactCheck.org also wrote: "Obama has said in the past that ‘reproductive services’ would be covered by his public plan, so it’s likely that any new federal insurance plan would cover abortion unless Congress expressly prohibits that."


    Under H.R. 3200, the public plan would be a program with the federal Executive Branch, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). All of the funds available to the "public fund" would be "federal funds," by law and as the term is used throughout the government. No group enhances its credibility by repeating the completely untenable claim that a federal agency can expend "private funds." We demonstrate that all of the funds spent by the public option would be federal funds, as we did in this memorandum:


    The memorandum also demonstrates that all of the funds that would support the premium subsidy program created by the bill would be federal funds, obtained mostly from general federal revenues, along with some special taxes created by the bill.


    Adomd, the pro-abortion groups already floated legislative language to allow some unaccountable committee of friendly ‘experts’ recommended by their groups to decide the matter. It flew like a dirigible filled with mercury. In this country, we have a kind of general tradition that most important public policy matters should be decided by people who stand for election. That’s why we have elections.


    Douglas Johnson

    Legislative Director

    National Right to Life Committee