Is Denying Women Abortions The Price Of Bipartisanship?

Republicans argue that greater government involvement in health care will lead to rationing of care and denial of coverage. A government run health care would place a bureaucrat between “you and your doctor,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, repeated at least four times during a recent interview on Fox News.

And according to some reports, Hatch is working hard to translate his criticism into reality. Hatch and his Republican colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee are pushing legislation that would require insurers operating within the new Exchange to to deny coverage for abortion services. From Raising Women’s Voices:

The Senate Finance Committee has been writing a health care reform bill and struggling to create legislation that will have bipartisan support. Chairman Max Baucus (pictured left) considered several compromises to win Republican support, so they can claim it is bipartisan legislation. One of these potential compromises comes in the form of an abortion exclusion, which would prevent abortion services from being covered by some or all insurance plans in the Health Insurance Exchange. We fear that members of the Senate Finance Committee are considering such a compromise.

Nineteen House members have also sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) stating that they will not vote for health care reform legislation “unless it explicitly excludes abortion funding from the scope of any government-defined or subsidized health insurance plan.” “Furthermore, we want to ensure that the Health Benefits Advisory Committee cannot recommend abortion services be included under covered benefits or as part of a benefits package,” the members wrote.


The available legislation from the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Senate Committee and the House’s Tri Committee leaves the coverage decisions — the design of the so-called essential benefit packages — to the Secretary of Health and Human Services or a committee of experts. The Chairman’s mark of the HELP bill sates that “the Secretary shall ensure that the scope of the essential health benefits under paragraph (1)(A) is equal to the scope of benefits provided under a typical employer plan, as determined by the Secretary.” The Tri Committee legislation establishes a “private-public advisory committee which shall be a panel of medical and experts to be known as the Health Benefits Advisory Committee to recommend covered benefits and an essential benefits package.”

Should it pass, the Senate Finance version would be the only bill that specifically prohibits — takes away, rations, if you will — a medical service. Approximately one in three American women will have an abortion by age 45 and private insurers typically cover the procedure. In 2002, The Guttmacher Institute found that 86.9 percent of “typical” employment-based health plans “routinely cover” surgical abortion and 86.5 percent “routinely cover” medical abortion. The language under consideration would take away this benefit from women receiving coverage through the Exchange, eliminating the service for millions of American women.

As Republicans often argue, Congress should leave benefits decisions to the medical professionals. After all, if denying abortion services to women is the price of bipartisanship, then perhaps winning those one or two Republican votes isn’t worth the price of jeopardizing women’s health and well-being. In fact, according to a new national opinion survey conducted for the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), 71 percent of Americans overwhelmingly support requiring health plans in the Exchange to cover women’s reproductive health services. Even 78 percent of Republicans prefer an independent commission of citizens and medical professionals make decisions about what should be covered under reform rather than the President and Congress. Allowing an independent commission of medical professionals to make coverage decisions is the real face of bipartisanship.