Stop Stupak

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that women do, in fact, have a right to govern their own bodies without government interference, the anti-choice movement has tried its best to prevent the real-world exercise of this right. Some examples are more obvious than others: two that stand out are. The successful campaign to ban the safe and often necessary procedure of dilation and extraction–commonly attacked as “partial-birth abortion”–and the parallel state-level attempts to require teenagers to receive parental consent for the procedure are among the more noticeable examples.

But far more insidious, and underreported, are the anti-choice movement’s attempts to prevent not the scope but the real-world exercise of women’s fundamental reproductive rights. Many of these methods exist outside of the realm of legislation. Regular pickets of abortion clinics and the creation of “pregnancy crisis centers” that bait women with the promise of reproductive health counseling, only to present them with anti-abortion propaganda, have exploited the shame associated with the procedure to intimate women out of decisions to terminate their pregnancies. So too have “pregnancy crisis centers” that bait women with the promise of reproductive health counseling, only to present them with anti-abortion propaganda. However, the federal government has a long, sordid history of assisting these efforts. The current ban on abortion services at military bases and the Hyde amendment, which bans curtails Medicaid and other federal funding for elective abortion with very few exceptions, work to force women in the service and of limited means into unwanted pregnancies.

Unfortunately, the House health care bill proposes spreading these limits beyond the military and poor to the middle class. The Stupak-Pitts amendment, proposed by Democratic congressman Bart Stupak and his Republican colleague Joe Pitts,, was added to the House bill, and bans the allocation of any federal funding to insurance plans that cover abortion. Its scope extends beyond that of the the Hyde amendment, which bans funding for actual abortions, because the Stupak-Pitts amendment would not eliminate subsidies for a woman’s other procedures if her insurance package covers abortion.

The long-run effect of the amendment, according to a George Washington University School of Public Health study, would be to eliminate private health insurance coverage of abortion entirely. Because of the generous subsidies included in both House and Senate health care proposals, a ban on the provision of excluding those subsidies to any plan covering abortion from these subsidies would rule out such a plan to a wide swath of the insurance market.  The response of insurers seeking to gain more customers would be to exclude abortion coverage, so as to be eligible for the subsidies. The end result would be a nation in which women can not purchase an insurance package including abortion, whether they receive government subsidies or not. While GWU’s prediction may not come to pass, Stupak is in any case sure to limit access to abortion even for those not receiving insurance subsidies.

This, of course, would not eliminate abortion in the United States. It would, however, make abortion even more of a class issue than it currently is. Insurance coverage for abortion is only necessary if one is not capable of affording an abortion out of pocket. While the $372 average price of an abortion at a low-cost clinic is bearable for those with high incomes, this is a major expenditure for those in the lower and lower-middle income brackets. When its cost is reduced to a manageable copayment by insurance, abortion is a true right accessible to all. Without that coverage, however, abortion is a luxury reserved for those who can afford it. The rights ensured by Roe v. Wade would then only having be meaningful only for those with the extra income requisite to afford exercising them.

Proponents of the Stupak amendment counter that those with a legitimate moral opposition to abortion have a right not to fund a practice they find abhorrent. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops, for example, praised the Stupak amendment as “legislation that truly protects the…consciences of all.” But this is an argument for the Hyde amendment, not the Stupak amendment. It would be possible for Congress, if so inclined, to allow subsidies to plans covering abortion with the caveat that these subsidies only finance other procedures covered by those plans. The Stupak amendment goes further than this, and bans any subsidies at all to plans that cover abortion. It is possible to incorporate these conscience concerns into a health care reform bill without ending abortion coverage altogether, as the Stupak amendment will do.

More importantly, the conscience argument assumes a bizarre conception of the role of government. Being a member of a nation requires an acceptance of laws and rights established by the political institutions that govern that nation, whether or not one agrees with them. It would be unthinkable for Congress to entertain the notion of giving a tax refund to, say, opponents of the war in Iraq. While many, the staff of Perspective included, find the war, with its death toll exceeding six hundred thousand, grievously immoral, it would be absurd to expect not to have to fund a program simply because we disagree with it. A polis can only survive if its members refuse to undermine its fairly implemented policies.

Whether or not anti-choice zealots choose to accept it, Roe v. Wade was a fairly decided Supreme Court decision, upheld repeatedly over the past four decades, and as such is part of American law. It is an insult not just to the millions of Americans interested in protecting women’s reproductive liberty, but also to the American judiciary system at large, to claim that its opponents have some sort of right to not to support it financially. Cutting off taxpayer support for fundamental human rights is not just wrong, but antithetical to liberal democracy.

Perspective, thus, urges the House and Senate to pass a health care reform bill without the Stupak amendment included. We are heartened by the promises of US Senate candidates Martha Coakley and Michael Capuano to oppose a bill with the amendment; while we sincerely hope that health care reform will pass, it is important that our representatives not be afraid to play this type of hardball. The right to terminate one’s pregnancy is a fundamental constitutional liberty. Attempts like the Stupak amendment to snuff it out should be forcefully resisted.

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