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The Abortion Holdout

By Matthew Yglesias  

"The Abortion Holdout"

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Ben Nelson doesn’t come in for as much scorn as some of his Senate colleagues since he’s never pretend to be anything other than an unusually conservative Democrat and since Nebraska has been a consistently reactionary state for many, many, many decades.

That said, it really is worth lingering on the extent to which his threat to hold health reform hostage to an abortion dispute reflects the old saw about people who believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth. Right now, most Americans under the age of 65 receive insurance from their employers. But that system is slowly but surely unraveling. Americans who don’t get insurance from their employers often find it difficult to afford any insurance at all. That is, among other things, a significant problem for pregnant women and their newborn children. What’s more, those who don’t get insurance from their employers generally find that plans offered on the individual market don’t cover maternity services. This health care bill would change that. In the short-term, it would be a boon for those currently uninsured or buying insurance on the individual market. In the long-term, that’s going to be a larger and larger share of the population, so this is important. And the bill would not provide for federally subsidized abortions.

Providing prenatal services to pregnant women is a pro-life gesture by any stretch of the imagination. As is providing health insurance to young children. As we saw the other day, uninsured children are over three times more likely to die from their trauma-related injuries than are commercially insured children, even after adjustment for other factors such as age, gender, race, injury severity and injury type.

But Nelson won’t let those lives be saved unless the bill is modified in an insulting and discriminatory way. And part of the insanity of it is that the actual impact on the number of abortions in America is going to be tiny. Middle-class women will be able to pay for abortions out of pocket, and the “Hyde Amendment” status quo already screws poor women. But it’s a nice symbolic dig at pro-choice America, and a further means of stigmatizing reproductive health services as somehow not real health care. And Nelson, Bart Stupack, and various bishops love the idea of holding the whole package hostage to this point, since I guess the dead kids with trauma injuries will go to heaven anyway or something.

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