The word “abortion” immediately draws up powerful feelings in many people; the topic shows up almost daily in one news source or another. Its most recent hot-button reference is its connection to the major debate in Washington: the health care issue. If not center stage, abortion has certainly taken a spotlight in the health care debates.
What it amounts to is that abortion opponents in the Senate and the House are fighting to block women who are receiving federal subsidies for their health insurance from selecting plans that may cover abortions.
There are many private insurance companies from which free Americans have the right to select. One of the effects of the bill going through Congress is to help lower- and middle-income Americans afford insurance by subsidizing that cost. Pro-life advocates are attempting to block any insurance company that might cover abortions from that choice.
Health insurance covers a lot of things — depending on the company. Regardless of anyone’s opinions on abortions, the free market can only thrive if consumers are able to make informed choices among many alternatives.
Abortion has now overshadowed the myriad implications that this health care reform could carry. Hospitals are suffering because patients can’t afford procedures that insurance won’t cover. Many people go without insurance because the premiums are too high. And now the bill that could alleviate some of these problems is being delayed further because some pro-life pundits are afraid that government money might be funding abortions.
The literal meaning of that phrase would suggest that the government is paying for women to have abortions performed. Since this is clearly not happening, the reasoning stands at this: The government would be helping to subsidize the cost of insurance for lower- and middle-class individuals to put Americans on more equal footing in terms of their health care. Some of the health plans that women might choose might cover them if they ever opted to have an abortion. Ergo, the government would be funding their abortions. Or not.
Federal restrictions on financing abortions have been in place since 1976, according to the Chicago Tribune, when Medicaid was banned from funding abortions unless the woman in question either would have her life threatened by carrying to full term or became pregnant as a result of rape or incest.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D–Mont.) authored a bill that would force insurance companies that allowed abortions to separate money to be used for abortions from the consumers’ premiums. This was a clear move to take the question of government funds’ being put toward abortions out of discussion so that the bill could be sent through the proper channels and dealt with in a timely manner.
As expected, however, the move was not strong enough for the pro-life side of the equation. Republicans in the Senate were not satisfied with having mere accounting technicalities determine the difference between individuals’ paying for their own abortions and taxpayers’ doing so.
In response, Republican Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah proposed an amendment that would essentially blacklist any health plan that included coverage of abortions. No money from the health care legislation would be offered to any insurance plan if that plan might cover abortions.
Such an idea would force insurance companies to either change their policies so they would be able to compete or else die in a market where socially conservative companies get the upper hand. Fortunately for the insurance market, the finance committee voted down the amendment.
It would seem social conservatives are trying to press their opinions on all Americans — critics of the idea to have insurance companies separate the money cite that the government subsidies would still help people to afford health coverage that would include abortions.
Another New York Times article cited a Kaiser Family Foundation survey showing that half of American women covered by an employer-sponsored health plan have policies that would cover abortions. If forced to choose between paying more for a plan that would cover abortions and having the government help pay for one that wouldn’t, most people would opt for the latter.
Another option brought up by conservatives is that women could opt to purchase supplemental insurance to cover abortions. The problem with this is that most women will not anticipate having an unwanted pregnancy.
The power of “abortion” is allowing an only marginally related issue to overshadow the concern on the table: Health care in America needs to see some changes, because the current state of affairs benefits no one.
Douglas McIntyre, English Graduate Student