Effect Of Abortion Restrictions In Health Bill May Be Less Than Advocates Fear

Despite widespread debate, abortion restrictions in the House health reform bill could affect only a small number of women. Meanwhile, Catholic bishops weigh into the debate and abortion rights group plan a rally to contest the restrictions.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the restrictions were included "to ensure that no taxpayer dollars fund abortion. To that end, the government-run public insurance plan set up by the House bill wouldn't cover abortion, except in the rare cases of rape or incest, or when the pregnancy endangers the woman's life. Individuals getting federal subsidies to buy insurance on a new health-care exchange -- a potentially large group, reaching from the working poor well into the middle class -- also would be barred from buying policies that cover abortion, unless they do so with their own money. Supporters of legal abortion fear that insurers will stop offering abortion coverage for all their customers to streamline their plans, meaning millions of women could lose benefits they currently have."

"Just 13% of abortions nationwide are billed to private insurance, according to a 2001 study by the Guttmacher Institute ... More than 90% of abortions take place in the first trimester, at an average cost of $413. For some women, that would be a staggering sum. ... But for many women who have private insurance, losing abortion coverage and having to pay out of pocket for the procedure wouldn't be an insurmountable burden." However, "late-term procedures, which account for just 1% of all abortions, take several days and can cost $5,000" (Simon, 11/17).

Related KHN story: How The House Abortion Restrictions Would Work (Appleby, 11/10)

Politico on Catholic bishops weighing in: "The bishops can make a strong case that the anti-abortion language inserted into the House health care bill extends only this central principle: Federal health dollars can't go to pay for abortions. And for 12 years, these same restrictions have applied not just to fees for abortion services but also to any federal contributions to health plans that cover elective abortions" (Rogers, 11/17).

Meanwhile, Roll Call reports that "[a]bortion-rights groups and other progressive lobbies are organizing a post-Thanksgiving assault on Capitol Hill to press lawmakers to keep restrictive language on abortion out of the final health care package." The organizations have are organizing a National Day of Action on Dec. 2 "that will include a rally at the Capitol as well as visits by activists from around the country to lawmakers' offices. The event comes as abortion-rights groups seek to regroup and energize their members after being blindsided by the House decision to add anti-abortion language to its health care bill. They are now figuring out how they can keep similar language out of the Senate bill" (Roth, 11/17).

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