The House passed the historic Affordable Health Care Act (HR3962) by a narrow margin (220-215) with major gains for women including eliminating gender rating in insurance prices, banning pre-existing conditions, capping out of pocket expenses, expanding Medicaid to include individuals at 150% of the federal poverty level, improving Medicare by closing the donut hole on prescription drug coverage, no charge for preventive care, and stopping the practice of dropping coverage or capping coverage of sick people. Important provisions that advance the health needs of LGBT people were also included in the Act. Unequal taxation of domestic partner benefits was eliminated.
Women’s rights advocates, however, were delivered a major defeat Saturday night by passage of the outrageously restrictive anti-abortion Stupak amendment to the Affordable Health Care for America Act (HR 3962) by a 240-194 vote of the House of Representatives. The amendment, co-sponsored by Bart Stupak (D-MI), Joe Pitts (R-PA), Brad Ellsworth (D-IN), Dan Lipinski (D-IL), and Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA), bans abortion coverage for women in both the public option and private insurance. Under the guise of no federal funding for abortion in so-called keeping with Hyde Amendment restrictions, the Stupak Amendment goes way beyond Hyde. This amendment bans abortion coverage even if women pay for it with their own money in the public option or private plans in the insurance exchange.
“This is an outrageous denial of choice to women dictated by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and their army of lobbyists,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority. “Millions of poor and middle class women will be denied abortion coverage. Millions more may lose abortion coverage because currently some 85% of private plans now have such coverage. The Stupak amendment far from being abortion neutral is an unacceptable, giant step backward for women.”
The fight is far from over. Many pro choice legislators and groups, who were reluctantly willing to compromise on the Capps amendment included in the Act, are now determined to strip the Stupak amendment from the Act before it is finally approved by Congress and signed by the president. The Capps amendment provided that no federal funds would be used for abortion. It also provided that in the insurance exchange there would be at least one option that would include abortion coverage and at least one that would not at every premium level for an individual or small business to purchase with their own dollars. The anti abortion forces took advantage of a close House vote on passage of the Affordable Health Care for Americans Act this weekend by Stupak and some 30 legislators pledging they would not vote for final passage unless their total ban on abortion coverage amendment received a floor vote. The Act was only approved by a slim 220-215 ultimately, with Stupak and 20 other members of Congress who both voted for the amendment, voting for the Act.
“Pro-choice forces feel they have been had and are willing and able to step up pressure as the Act proceeds to the Senate for action, then to a House/Senate conference committee, and back to both the Senate and House for final approval before the President signs it into law,” observed Smeal. “There are many more pro-choice Democrats than anti-abortion ones. The question must be answered if the Democrats are more willing to dance to the tune of the Catholic bishops or to listen to its overwhelming constituency of pro-choice women. We must stop every major act being used as a vehicle to cut back reproductive rights. Young women’s lives cannot continue to be a political football. This historic Act must be freed of abortion politics and that is what the pro-choice forces tried to do.”