Late Saturday night, the House of Representatives finally passed a health care bill with a vote of 220-215 with only a single Republican vote. While this is only the first step to any meaningful health care reform, the bill is already making waves for its amendment excluding funding for abortion. Until now, the Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, has made it impossible for the Department of Health and Human Services to subsidize abortions in its annual budget. This disproportionately affected poor women who could not afford to pay the private insurance cost for abortions out of pocket and was a restriction for anyone receiving Medicaid or working for the government. But now even more restrictive language has been drafted, taking the abortion issue to an extreme and depriving millions of women of their right to choose.
Many people hate the idea of the government paying for abortions, but the fact is they haven’t ever funded them. The government might have indirectly subsidized abortions, but only if the insurance company that received subsidies included coverage for abortions. All money involved was private, from the patient paying for the service to the company using its funds to pay for the procedures — the government had no hand in this process. However, the new bill bans abortion coverage from all taxpayer funded insurance plans. Because the new bill offers subsidies to help low to middle-income families and uninsured people to be covered, no one would be able to select a plan within the new exchange.
This is far beyond the scope of the Hyde Amendment: since every plan on the exchange would offer some form of subsidy from the government, abortion would not be an option for anyone in need of one. Like the Hyde Amendment, this bill does allow for abortions in the case of rape, incest or life threatening situations, but it is still the most restrictive anti-abortion law introduced. The federal government is in effect dictating how your money may be spent and determining what plan benefits that you are allowed to receive. Current law prevents the federal government from subsidizing abortion, that is clear — but preventing anyone from taking advantage of a plan that allows abortion by denying them the expanded coverage in this new bill is stepping over the line.
Unsatisfied with the largely ineffective and restrictive anti-abortion language in the Hyde Amendment, opponents of choice have decided not to settle for any compromise. In yet another page from the Republican playbook, Republicans and conservative Democrats have decided that it’s all or nothing. With our government built on compromise, nothing can get done without cooperation, which is impossible when extremists hold reform hostage for their ideological preferences. Health insurance reform is desperately needed, but it is absurd to force millions of women to adhere to a plan that deprives them of their right to choose or to remain uninsured.
The same Republicans that refuse to allow the government to control the health care system are now advocating control over what kind of medical decisions a woman can and cannot make. These Republicans, who claim to advocate state rights for health care reform and oppose federal expansion, should be consistent and not interfere with the systems the states already have in place. They cannot argue that the government is going too far, criticize its rapid expansion and still be taken seriously if they turn around and vote for the greatest limit on a woman’s right to choose in the history of the United States. What is particularly telling is that all but one Republican voted against the bill even though it contained the amendment they forced into the bill.
Regardless of whether or not the Republicans who supported this amendment did this to derail health care or to ensure that they got something they wanted, to take the first crucial step in reform, this concession had to be made. The new health care plan is one of the greatest expansions we’ve seen yet and is very important to fixing the mess that is our health care system. But as a consequence, a concession like the one the Republicans forced on the House has a much larger impact than abortion rights advocates would like. However, like it or not, a step needs to be taken to get better healthcare for Americans. There is always the chance that reconciliation with the Senate will improve or eliminate this violation of privacy.
While the abortion debate is one that has no real solution, it is one of the more divisive issues around today. It is a shame that an ideological battle over this issue could be the very thing that demolishes sorely needed health care reform. The compromise in place is sufficient and consistent with Roe v. Wade. It retains a clear separation between public and private abortion policies. More importantly, they should not use such an emotional issue to distract lawmakers from the real problems that need fixing in our broken health care system.
Kerry Wakely is a second-year English major. He can be reached at email@example.com.