Getting to Well: Women and the Health Care Battles

Part: 4

Obama Fuels Battle Over Funds for Abortion

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Both sides of the abortion debate are riled up over the funding of abortion services under Obama's proposed public health plan. But as the battle heats up, a senator's effort at compromise casts doubt on the public option altogether.



(WOMENSENEWS)--The words rang like gunshots in many women's ears.

"Under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions," President Obama told a joint session of Congress in a televised speech about health care reform on September 9.

His pledge is fueling the fight over women's access to abortion under any form of government insurance that might survive lawmakers' protracted and intense battles over health care reform.

Three days after Obama's speech, tens of thousands of protestors swarmed the U.S. capital in a rally that organizers touted as the largest-ever outpouring of political conservatives. Many carried anti-choice placards and chanted slogans that blasted the inclusion of abortion services in the public plan.

Pro-choice activism is also revved up.

Last weekend, the New-York based Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health sent 26 doctors to Capitol Hill to talk to lawmakers about the importance of including women's reproductive health care, including contraception, prenatal care, and abortion, within health reform.

One million U.S. women need abortions each year, and one-third require this procedure at some point in their lives, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute.

Via their Web sites, Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, both with large presences in Washington D.C., are enabling supporters to circulate petitions; to pen letters to the editors of local newspapers; and to lobby their Congressional representatives.

Eliminating Field of Battle

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) threatened to short-circuit the skirmish by eliminating the entire field of battle. On September 16, he introduced a spinoff of the Obama-favored plan that excludes a government program and the abortion politics that go along with it.

Pro-choice supporters argue that covering abortion is necessary to maintain women's health and women's rights and is already part of current government policy.

Many point to a July opinion poll by the Washington-based National Women's Law Center, which indicated that 71 percent of voters favor including reproductive services in health care reform.

Abortion is permitted by law as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and is a standard part of insurance coverage in 80 percent of employer-sponsored health plans, according to the Web site Polifact.com.

Under the 1985 Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, laid-off workers can remain on their former employer's group health plans for 18 months. Federal funding supports COBRA coverage, including abortion services.

"When the President made this announcement, he traded many women's futures away," said Stephanie Poggi, executive director of the Boston-based National Network of Abortion Funds. "The poorest women must scrape and skimp--forgoing food, electricity and even risking eviction by delaying rent--to afford abortion services. And now, the President is recommending that we expand this inequality to millions more women."

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