By Reverend Dr. Carlton W. Veazey
President and CEO, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Amid celebrations marking the first anniversary of the health care law, there is serious concern about the future of insurance coverage for abortion for millions of women. As a direct result of the Affordable Care Act, an unprecedented drive to ban insurance coverage of abortion is sweeping across the country. This is a coordinated, opportunistic attack that is blind to women’s real lives and unjust to women’s real needs. If it succeeds, the damage to women’s health care may well exceed that of individual state laws such as mandatory counseling and sonograms, forced delays, and bans on specific procedures.
Few people are aware of how devastating this attack is, which is why education and advocacy are the main thrust of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice’s national campaign, Insure Women, Ensure Our Future (http://rcrc.org/InsureWomen/index.html). Essentially it involves the insurance exchanges being set up by states, the marketplaces where millions of people will get and purchase insurance starting in 2014. Medicaid recipients will get insurance there, but so will people who pay for insurance and get insurance through their employer. After the health care law was signed, five states almost immediately passed bills to prohibit insurance plans on the exchanges from covering abortion except in dire circumstances such as to save the woman’s life. Now, a year later, 22 more states are considering similar bills. Nearly half of those are also considering making it illegal for all private plans to cover abortion.
Along with low-income women who receive Medicaid, an estimated 14.5 million women who are insured by their mid-sized and large employers would be affected by these restrictions, according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute. In addition, anti-choice Republicans have passed two bills to restrict coverage -- HR 3 (the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act") and HR 358 (the "Protect Life Act"). While these may not make it out of the Senate, they pose another threat.
Contrast that to the fact that about 80 percent of private plans now cover pregnancy termination and the impact becomes clearer.
The challenge now is to educate policymakers and voters about the extreme nature of these restrictions and stop these bans. This a pro-choice country at heart -- some people may have reservations about abortion but they are firmly and consistently in favor of options that include family planning, contraception, and sexuality education and in favor of women making decisions with dignity and minimal governmental interference. One in three women will have an abortion procedure at some time in her life. Millions of women should not be penalized because some don’t approve of this procedure.
Insurance coverage for pregnancy termination has had a low profile until now because it was not threatened. Now that it is, it is critical to understand that insurance helps guarantee access to needed reproductive health care services. It is also critical to make it clear that there are already ample safeguards against taxpayer money being used for abortion except in limited, dire circumstances; that is a red herring, a tactic to divert attention from the real goal of further restricting access to a procedure that is an integral part of women’s reproductive health care.
Progress in expanding health care coverage to millions of Americans and doing away with injustices in the system is long overdue and should be celebrated. But victory at the expense of women's comprehensive reproductive health care is no victory at all.