WASHINGTON – Pro-choice advocates are hoping to influence Congress as the Senate prepares to vote on a health-care reform bill.
The Center for Reproductive Rights launched a television advertising campaign Tuesday against the Stupak-Pitts amendment,which would ban federal funding for abortion services in the health-care reform bill passed by the House earlier this month.
The ad will run for a week on cable networks in the Washington area and on several news Web sites. The organization did not disclose the cost of the ad campaign.
“Some in Congress are attempting to use the reform bill as a vehicle for banning insurance coverage for abortion services,coverage that millions of women have today,” Nancy Northup,the center's president,said at a news conference Monday.
The ad features a comedian at a club making a joke about health-care reform. She says breast-reduction surgery and nose jobs are covered under insurance plans but not abortions.
The House voted 240-194 last week in favor of an amendment proposed by Reps. Bart Stupak,D-Mich.,and Joe Pitts,R-Pa. The sponsors say it would maintain the current law prohibiting the use of federal funds to pay for abortions,but opponents say it would reduce coverage.
Most private health insurance plans offer abortion coverage,but Northup said more women will likely choose more affordable,federally funded health plans if the health-care reform bill is passed. This means,she said,many women would lose abortion benefits they already have.
In the House bill,individuals with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level,or $88,000 for a family of four,would receive subsidies to buy health insurance. Under the Stupak-Pitts amendment,women receiving federal assistance and those in Medicaid,the military or the Peace Corps would not have access to a plan with abortion coverage. Instead,they could buy “riders” for that coverage.
Northup said this health-care model is “contrary to the entire point” of insurance.
“It is illogical to require women to purchase coverage for a service most of them do not anticipate having,” Northup said.
D.J. Feldman,41,a federal employee from the Washington area,said she never anticipated having an abortion.
Feldman did not reveal where works for privacy reasons and asked that no photos or videos be taken of her at Monday's news conference.
In 2008,Feldman became pregnant,and her doctor told her and her husband that the baby had a fatal neural tube defect,called anencephaly,which leaves parts of a baby's brain and skull missing. About one in 150,000 to 200,000 babies in the United States is born with this condition annually.
Many babies with anencephaly die in utero,and the mother goes through labor to deliver a dead fetus. Some babies are stillborn or die shortly after birth. Feldman's doctor advised her to have an abortion.
“There was no doubt in her mind that I needed to have an abortion,” Feldman said.
She said she was devastated but thinks it was the right decision. Then she learned her federal insurance policy refused to pay for the abortion.
“It was at this point that I got very angry because I discovered my health care had been potentially compromised because of politics,” she said.
Feldman and her husband were able to pay the $5,000 medical bill,but soon after,she went to Capitol Hill to lobby for federal funding for abortions.
“Someone like me will always have access to reproductive health care,but I am not the norm,” Feldman said.
Douglas Johnson,legislative director for the anti-abortion organization National Right to Life,said the Stupak amendment won't change federal policy.
“It's the same policy as the government already has,” Johnson said.
He said the amendment also “spells out that the private insurance companies can include abortion coverage all they want.”
Under the Stupak amendment,federal health-care plans would still cover abortions in the event of incest,rape or if the mother's life is at stake.
In the case of someone like Feldman,Johnson said anencephaly is a very rare condition but about two-thirds of the babies diagnosed with anencephaly live for days or weeks.
“We don't think that federal funds should be used for killing the handicapped,whether inside the womb or after birth,” Johnson said.
He said those babies deserve the “same rights and dignity as the rest of us.”
Johnson said the Stupak amendment is not an attempt to control the private insurance market but to ensure that federal funds are not used for abortions that can be avoided.