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Stung by restrictions in healthcare bill, abortion rights supporters fight back

November 18, 2009 | 11:40 am

As the fight over a healthcare bill moves from the House to the Senate, abortion rights groups are rallying to make sure the Senate's version does not contain antiabortion language approved by the House.

After a pitched, months-long battle and a successful lobbying effort by the country's Catholic bishops, the House's narrowly passed version would make it impossible for many women to purchase health insurance that covers abortion. 

The Stupak-Pitts amendment says health plans purchased with the help of government money cannot include abortion coverage. Low-income women using federal subsidies, even small ones, to buy heath insurance would not be able to buy plans that cover abortion. Abortion foes contend that this is simply an extension of existing law, which for 30 years has prohibited the use of federal money for most abortions.

But supporters of abortion rights say Stupak-Pitts is more restrictive than current federal law. If the country ends up with a public option, Stupak-Pitts would prevent any of those plans from offering abortion coverage, which means a woman using her own money to purchase a plan through the (presumably less expensive) public option would not be able to buy a plan that covers abortion. Also, they claim, insurers would have less incentive to offer abortion coverage.

Such restrictions, say abortion rights groups, are unacceptable since abortion is a legal medical procedure.

This week, the Center for Reproductive Rights unveiled a new campaign, "Abortion Coverage is No Joke." At a press conference in Washington, Nancy Northup, the group's president, introduced a woman whose insurance company would not pay for an abortion even though her fetus was diagnosed with a fatal abnormality. Not exactly stand-up material, but check out this video, which will play for a week on cable in the DC area:


Meanwhile, 20 House Democrats who voted for Stupak-Pitts are the subject of a new Internet petition. All 20 are identified by both Planned Parenthood and National Right to Life rankings as either solidly in favor of abortion rights, or nominally so, and some are believed by abortion supporters to have "buyer's remorse" over the restrictive amendment they voted for. 

For every signature, Credo (a division of  Working Assets, the telecommunications company that donates a portion of its profits to progressive causes), will send a coat-hanger, that hoary symbol of the back-alley abortion, to the 20. So far, according to the petition's website, more than 113,000 hangers have been sent.

-- Robin Abcarian

Video: Center for Reproductive Rights

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