The US Senate and the Scarlet “A”
By Eric Wooten
One of the biggest battles for reproductive freedom is being waged right now and it’s happening largely behind the scenes of the national healthcare debate.
In return for his one vote, Senator Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) was able to jam new restrictions on abortion coverage into the Senate healthcare bill, stigmatizing women who want their private insurance to cover these medical procedures.
Specifically, Senator Nelson’s amendment will require women who wish to have abortion care as part of their health insurance to cut a separate check for it.
You didn’t drink too much eggnog – you read that correctly. Under the Democratic healthcare plan proposed in the United States Senate, women will have to write a separate check to their private health insurer if they want abortion coverage.
Does she have complete reproductive healthcare coverage? Only her doctor, health insurer, banker, accountant and human resources manager know for sure.
The Senate healthcare plan establishes a national healthcare exchange. Many, most or all private healthcare plans will eventually participate in this exchange and the federal government will help subsidize the private insurance of some individuals.
Senator Nelson insists his amendment is designed to ensure that no federal dollars are used to subsidize abortion coverage.
Why opponents of reproductive choice can keep their tax dollars from going to something they find objectionable while the rest of us are still forced to pay for prisoner executions, CIA interrogations and tobacco subsidies is a matter for another article.
What is clear however is that this amendment is an attempt to shame women who want to have abortion coverage. This conclusion becomes inescapable when you realize that health plans can easily segregate funds without the need for an additional check.
The insurance companies are the penultimate bureaucracies, the very model of a modern major general – they understand equations, both the simple and actuarial. To assume they can’t keep federal and private dollars segregated is like assuming Steven Hawking can’t calculate your dinner tip.
No, this amendment is a clear attempt to shame women into dropping abortion coverage. Can you imagine if men were forced to cut a separate check to cover the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases?
Perhaps more shocking than the actual amendment was who was behind brokering this abortion “compromise” – none other than longtime choice advocate Senator Barbara Boxer.
This is a healthcare bill, not an abortion bill and Democrats should certainly be entrusted to keep it that way. Hopefully Senator Boxer is simply trying to kill the abortion language in conference committee. Choice advocates certainly hope so.
Eric Wooten runs the democratic consulting firm Capitol Coast and is a former lobbyist for the League of Women Voters of California, where he lobbied on choice issues as a member of the California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom (CCRF).