Weekly Pulse: The Stupak Setback

This article is published in partnership with The Media Consortium, of which RH Reality Check is a member organization.

A clique of anti-choice Democrats in Congress joined forces with
Republicans to write abortion access out of the House’s health care
reform bill last Saturday. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) wants to force women
to choose between affordable health insurance and abortion coverage,
even if they pay for abortion coverage with their own money.

Pro-choice Democrats and women’s health activists are up in arms over the eleventh hour deal. Ellie Smeal of Ms. Magazine denounces the Stupak amendment as a betrayal of women:

Millions of poor and middle-class women would be denied
abortion coverage and millions more would lose the coverage they
already have, since 85 percent of private plans now cover abortion. Far
from being abortion-neutral, the Stupak amendment is a giant step
backward for women. It’s unacceptable. In the compromise to get the
bill passed, women and their health-care rights were thrown under the

Yesterday, The Pulse interviewed Jodi Jacobson, political director
of RH Reality Check, about the implications of the Stupak amendment for
reproductive choice in America. Jacobson explained that, if language
from the Stupak amendment finds its way into the final health care
bill, insurance companies would be forced to eliminate all abortion
coverage if they wanted to participate in any aspect of the health care
reform plan. Listen to the full interview here. (Note: there’s a slight delay before the audio starts.)

Jacobson calls the Stupak language a “monumental setback.” If an
insurance plan accepts customers who take government subsidies, then
nobody on that plan could have abortion coverage—not even those who
were paying their whole premium out of pocket. In effect, the Stupak
amendment would be “a total ban on public and private money for
abortion coverage,” Jacobson said.

In TAPPED, Michelle Goldberg accuses the Democrats of “leaving women behind
in their rush to pass health care reform at any cost. Goldberg warns
that if the amendment becomes law, Democrats will have handed the
anti-abortion lobby its biggest victory since the 2003 Partial Birth
Abortion Act.

In the Nation, Eyal Press argues that the Stupak amendment would be an especially cruel blow to poor women:

If this highly regressive amendment makes its way into
the legislation that Barack Obama eventually signs, millions of less
affluent women who obtain access to affordable health insurance will
thus join the ranks of low-income women on Medicaid, most of whom live
in states that don’t cover abortion procedures. The two-tiered system
that dictates who in America has “choice” (more privileged women do,
less affluent women do not) will be further entrenched.

Robin Marty of RH Reality Check wonders whether the Stupak amendment would apply to miscarriages
as well as elective abortions. Sometimes, when a fetus dies in utero,
doctors must surgically remove it. It’s the same procedure as an
elective termination and it has the same name: Abortion. Last month,
Marty lost a much-wanted pregnancy. Doctors laid out her options: a
$1500 surgery, a $40 chemical abortion, or an interminable wait to
expel the dead fetus naturally. Marty chose the surgery. She worries
that the Stupak amendment would take that choice away from other women.

The House bill is not yet the law of the land. There is still time
to strip the Stupak language out in conference (the merging process
whereby the House bill is combined with whatever comes out of the

But will it actually get stripped out in the senate? Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) announced that “If it isn’t clear that government money is not to be used to fund abortions, I won’t vote for it.”

On a conference call yesterday, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) told The
Pulse that he was optimistic that a compromise could be worked out.
“Ben Nelson said he wasn’t going to support a bill if it isn’t clear
that government money won’t be used to fund abortions,” Specter said,
“Well, we can make it clear that if someone wants to buy abortion
coverage with her own money, she can do it.”

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