Sunday, January 10, 2010

Putting Politics Aside: Protect Access to Abortion Care in Health Care Reform

By Louise Melling, Director, ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project

We can all agree: health care reform should improve people’s lives. That’s simple enough. That’s how we got into this overhaul process in the first place. At minimum, health care reform should make health care more affordable and more accessible. But things in Congress don’t seem to be shaping up that way, at least not when it comes to women and reproductive health care.

First, the House of Representatives included an abortion coverage ban in its health care reform package and then the Senate followed suit with its own restrictions. While not as extreme as the House coverage ban, the Senate’s bill requires anyone purchasing an insurance plan that covers abortion to write two separate checks -- one to pay for the cost of the abortion services and another to pay for the rest of the covered care. This is an arbitrary and burdensome requirement that stigmatizes abortion and creates hurdles for both the insurer that wants to include abortion care in its health plan and the insured who wants the coverage.

It’s just common sense. No woman plans for an unplanned pregnancy. No woman expects to hear that the baby she’s been looking forward to holding will likely not survive the pregnancy. No woman wants to hear that carrying her pregnancy to term will seriously threaten her own health. Everyone’s circumstances and health care needs are different. Each of these women should be able to decide what is best for her health and her family. Health care reform should ensure that basic health care is covered, and that we all have something to fall back on when we need it most.

Given disincentives in both the House and Senate reform bills, private insurance companies may well decide not to offer any plan in the exchange that covers abortion. These restrictions effectively jeopardize the abortion coverage millions of women currently have.

In the coming weeks, members of the House and Senate will work to reconcile their two bills. The final legislation must not diminish women’s access to abortion care. Let’s make sure that the president gets to sign a measure that recognizes the importance of respecting everyone’s right to make personal private health care decisions without government interference, and that our health care coverage will truly meet our health care needs. That’s the kind of health care we can all get behind.

>>Take action: Tell Congress to Get It Right! Protect Women’s Access to Abortion in Health Care Reform.

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