Of all the things that threaten to derail the health care debate raging in Congress, abortion might be the one to do it. The government-sponsored plan that's currently on the table would cover abortions, a detail that outrages abortion opponents.
Ronda Kaysen: No federal funds would be used to cover abortion -- the money would come out of funds from premiums -- but nevertheless, women would be able to get an abortion under the government plan, and critics of abortion insist that this is a deal breaker.
"We want to see people who have no health insurance get it, but this is a sticking point," Richard Doerflinger, associate director of pro-life activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told The Associated Press. "We don't want health care reform to be the vehicle for mandating abortion." The church can't accept a public plan that covers abortion, he said.
As it stands now, federal funds can only be used for abortion in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother. But if the federal government is going to put its muscle behind a universal coverage plan, it has to consider the fact that most private plans provide abortion coverage for women. If the government were to restrict coverage, a woman who has coverage for abortion now under her private plan may find herself suddenly without access to coverage if her employer switches to a government-sponsored plan.
Abortion opponents "want an abortion ban in private insurance, and that's not neutrality at all -- that's a radical departure from current law," Donna Crane, policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the AP. "They want something far more extreme than where I think the American public is."
The Obama administration has been dancing around the issue for weeks now, but last month, Peter R. Orszag, the White House budget director, refused to rule out the possibility of federal funds covering abortion when he was asked about it on "FOX News Sunday."
"I am not prepared to say explicitly that right now," he answered, when asked if no federal tax money would go toward abortions. "It's obviously a controversial issue, and it's one of the questions that is playing out in this debate."
Abortion opponents worry that unless the bill explicitly restricts abortion, it will give people unfettered access to the procedure. The House hammered out a compromise where no federal funds would be used to cover the procedure, only funds from beneficiary premiums. And any private plans that choose to cover abortion would not be able to use federal funds to pay for it. But that compromise is cold comfort for pro-life groups.
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, New York Observer and AM New York. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.|