Compromising Health Care

by Emily Baxter '11 | 11/29/09 11:00pm

It is hard to imagine from within the Dartmouth Bubble, but when we (hopefully) graduate in the coming years, the current health care debate in Congress could have a vast impact on our lives. As The Dartmouth reported two weeks ago, young people, new to the workforce and post-Bubble life, are the most likely to be uninsured and would be a group to whom the proposed public option or government subsidized healthcare might be particularly attractive ("House bill could help recent grads," Nov. 18).

But, the females among us who may purchase insurance under the proposed plan might find a necessary part missing: On Nov. 7, the House of Representatives passed a version of the health care bill that included a much-contested amendment known as the Stupak-Pitts Amendment. According to CNN and The New York Times, the amendment would prohibit any insurance plan bought with subsidies from the government from covering abortions, allowing funding for abortions only if the mother's life is threatened, or in cases of rape and incest. The amendment passed in the House with 174 Republican and 64 Democratic votes; 194 Democrats voted against the amendment and one Republican abstained.

It goes without saying that this is an issue fraught with complex and potentially irreconcilable arguments on both sides. The Stupak-Pitts Amendment is, however, a problem for two main reasons it endorses problematic ideas and poses a threat to overall health care reform. First, by not covering abortions, the proposed health care bill is delivering a huge blow to women's rights to health care. For a plan that was proposed precisely to help those who cannot afford health insurance, it is unconscionable that our nation's poorest women should be denied access to an abortion due to financial inability (and the fact that their insurance will not cover it).

As Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., told The New York Times, "Abortion is a matter of conscience for both sides of the debate. This amendment takes away that same freedom of conscience from America's women." Abortion should be a decision of conscience that each American woman makes for herself, not one that her financial status or government-supplied or subsidized insurance can make for her.

Furthermore, the amendment would allow women to purchase supplemental riders for abortion coverage. Effectively, with or without an insurance rider, a woman is monetarily punished for her right to choose. There is a curious double-standard here: as the oft-cited example goes, the new health care bill will cover Viagra, but will make women pay more for limited abortion coverage.

The intricacies of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment are incredibly dense and its ramifications are unknowable. In fact, the second problem with the amendment is the consequences it could have for health care reform overall. According to The New York Times, "[T]he issue threatens to sidetrack the broader debate over health care." Groups on both sides of the argument have vowed to block the health care bill if it includes or does not include the amendment.

I have found that the issue of abortion, as well as its legal and moral implications, is one with which I (and most of the people I have known) have struggled. It is not a debate that I see ending soon, and the fact that this one issue could ruin health care reform is truly upsetting. The fact that it has been brought to the table in such an expansive and divisive way, as an all or nothing measure, is regrettable and will lead to I fear to a partisan showdown, rather than an actual debate over women's rights.

Just because the Stupak-Pitts Amendment passed in the House, it does not mean that the Senate should stand for the inclusion of any similar amendment. There should be no such aspect of the health care bill.

It is not too late to voice an opinion; the National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood provide templates for letters people can send to their Senators opposing the amendment.

In the end, however, Congress may have to compromise over this issue, delaying the health care bill even more and leaving everyone unhappy. It is as though every American feminist woman, man and policymaker is being forced to choose between women's health care and health care reform at all.