Should Abortion Be Included in a National Health Insurance Plan?

9 years ago

As a good liberal, I am on the e-mail lists of many advocacy groups, the result of which is that I receive about 14,000 "action alerts" every day, 99.9% of which I delete without even opening. However, last week, two emails caught my attention: Planned Parenthood and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice both asked me to contact Congress and the Obama administration to protest the potential exclusion of abortion services from any national health care plan that is enacted.

This poses a pragmatic and moral dilemma for me. I really want national health care to pass. I believe that abortion is health care. I understand that there are many people who believe that abortion is morally wrong, and thus will fight national health care tooth and nail if abortion is included as an option. A part of me is willing to compromise on abortion, and say that as long as contraceptives and comprehensive family planning services are covered, I could live with a plan that passes without abortion, then work towards adding it later. On the other hand, it makes me insanely angry that groups that are against legal abortion would put the health and lives of millions of uninsured people at risk just to impose their morality upon me. Legal, accessible abortion to me is a just and moral cause in the same way that these groups feel about "fetal rights." Why should I be the one to continually bend on my values for the greater good?

I have witnessed the dire consequences of lack of affordable abortion. For several years, I served with the Haven Coalition, a network of volunteers who open their homes to women forced to travel to New York City to obtain second trimester abortions. While second trimester abortions are a very small percentage of the number of abortions performed in the United States (more than 90% of pregnancies are terminated in the first 12 weeks), it turned out that many of the women I met tried to get first trimester abortions. The problem was that federal Medicaid funds would not cover the procedure (other than in cases of rape or incest, or if the woman's life is in danger), and by the time they scraped together the money to pay for an abortion, they were into their second trimester. (The irony of this, of course, is that it forces the people who can least afford to have children - the same people that conservatives bitch about using welfare, food stamps, housing assistance, etc. - into having children.) So if we want to prevent second trimester abortions (and I know that I do), we really need to include abortion services in any health care plan.

It is not unusual for insurance to cover the costs of abortion. My private insurance, which I have through my husband's employer, would cover me if god forbid I found myself needing an abortion. The National Health Service in the UK covers the cost of abortion, except for women from Northern Ireland. Abortions in Canada are also funded by their national insurance plan. In the US, 17 states use state money to cover the cost of abortions for low income women. I am proud to live in one of those states.

Finally, I am disturbed by the slippery slope that is presented by leaving abortion out of any national health care plan because some people have moral objections to it. Many of these same people have moral objections to contraception. They also have moral objections to family planning and comprehensive sex education. The Catholic Church, for example, has battled long and hard to keep insurance plans from covering birth control pills (but not, of course, medications for erectile dysfunction - those drugs, it seems, are medically necessary to men's health). I will be damned (although of course, I already am in their eyes) if I give in to their moral imperatives - which are no better or worse than MY moral imperatives, and certainly in no way reflect the values and beliefs of every religious group in the world - on birth control. And that is absolutely the next step once abortion funding is eliminated.

There is a part of me that is sympathetic to the idea that people should not be forced to pay for things that they consider morally wrong. The problem with this concept, however, is that is not how a democracy works. If I were allowed to exempt myself from paying for services that I find morally objectionable, I would not allow my money to go toward enforcing the death penalty, for example. We can't each pick and choose where our tax dollars go otherwise there would be chaos. So I'm taking a deep breath and urging a national health plan that models the ones in the UK and Canada, one that recognizes that comprehensive reproductive care are vital aspects of women's health.

Other thoughts:

  • Want Insurance to Cover Your Reproductive Health Care? by Jodi Jacobson at RH Reality Check
  • Mainstream Media Reinforces Unexamined Arguments Against Public Funding for Abortion by Amanda Marcotte at RH Reality Check (My favorite line:"It’s more likely that breast implants will be paid for by tax money.")

  • Should Health-Care Reform Bills Allow Abortions to Be Paid for With Taxpayer Money? at WowOWow: Women on the Web

(Frankly, I would have liked to include more blog posts written by women opposed to the idea, but it is really hard to find any that don't accuse people like be of being valueless, murdering heathens who undermine everything that is good about society, and I refuse to promote anyone espousing this obnoxious fallacy. Any links to rational blogs on this topic would be appreciated!)

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants