By Sharon Johnson
WeNews senior correspondent
Thursday, August 19, 2010
The White House ban on abortion coverage in the first phase of health reform signals a major anti-choice victory in the first wave of implementation to the major overhaul law. NARAL is petitioning Obama for change.
"The Obama administration could have followed this model in the high-risk pools, which would have given women the same options that they will have in the exchanges," said Leveille. "But the anti-choice movement made the high-risk pools a controversial issue and created such a toxic environment that the pro-choice Obama administration was forced to take this position. As a result, women with serious health problems will be making decisions about treatments based on insurance coverage, not what is best for them and their families."
Pro-choice organizations are waiting for a response from the Obama administration before deciding on their next move.
Some observers believe that lawsuits might be filed to clarify the respective roles of the states and federal government in administering the high-risk pools since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in March did not mention the high-risk pools.
Energized by the HHS ban, Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah introduced legislation Aug. 12 that would ban federal subsidies in any plan that covers abortion services under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
National Right to Life is expected to campaign hard for the bill because it would extend the Hyde Amendment--a 24-year-old law that bars taxpayer subsidies of abortion under Medicaid and other federal health programs--to health care reform.
Dr. Douglas Laube, board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, a New York-based organization of 10,000 obstetricians-gynecologists, family practitioners, emergency room physicians and other doctors, predicts that the states will become the next battlefield over abortion benefits for women in the high-risk pools.
"Opponents of pro-choice have been successful in getting states to pass restrictive laws over the years," said Laube. "However, they may have a very difficult time getting states to restrict abortion coverage for women with serious health conditions whose birth control fails or have an unintended pregnancy because an increasing number of women are finding themselves in this position."
Conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension are becoming common, he said. More women are waiting until their late 30s and 40s to become pregnant, which also increases the risk of serious complications for women with underlying health problems.
Although cancer is rare during pregnancy--occurring in about one out of every 1,000 pregnancies--it has a tremendous impact on women's treatment options, said Laube. Pregnancy symptoms such as abdominal bloating, rectal bleeding and breast enlargement are common during pregnancy, which can delay a cancer diagnosis.
"Women who are in the midst of chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer also need to have abortion available," he said. "They may survive if they continue the pregnancy, but be left with serious health problems that affect their ability to care for themselves and their children."
The ban on abortion coverage in the high-risk pools is expected to affect low-income women disproportionately. A study by the New York-based Guttmacher Institute found that 58 percent of the 1.2 million women who had abortions in 2005 had incomes of 200 percent or less of the poverty level ($9,570 for an individual and $19,350 for a family of four).
"New Mexico and other poor states that have large uninsured populations will be the most affected by this ban," said Joan Lamunyon-Sanford, executive director of the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, an Albuquerque-based organization that provides escorts, transportation and home stays for women who have abortions. "But our members are deeply committed to doing all we can to help these women during this difficult period until 2014, when they will be able to obtain abortion coverage through the state exchanges."
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Sharon Johnson is a New York-based freelance writer.
NARAL Pro-Choice America:
ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project:
Physicians for Reproductive choice and Health:
The New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice:
By Sharon Johnson
By WeNews staff