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Cecile Richards Headshot

Women on the Verge

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A reporter asked me today if I was surprised that the issue of abortion has become, yet again, the midnight issue in health care reform bills. Once again, at the final hour, women's rights and access have been traded away in the new Senate health care bill. Rights and access that we may not get back anytime soon, if ever.

It's hard not to be discouraged when health care access for millions of women is traded away for one vote -- but that's exactly what happened. Senator Ben Nelson put his colleagues in the Senate in an impossible position, forcing them to agree to an illogical provision in order to move the health care reform process forward.

The new Nelson abortion provision is definitely not the status quo, as it doesn't reflect current law. But not only that, it doesn't even make sense. The purported reason to add additional language to the Senate bill was to insure that federal funds aren't used to pay for abortions -- but the Nelson amendment does absolutely nothing about that. All the Nelson amendment does is impose new, additional obstacles for women to get coverage -- even for medically necessary abortions. This goes way beyond any legislation that currently exists, and no matter how you look at it, it's a huge step backward for women's health.

Under this new language, anyone -- men and women of all ages -- who participates in an insurance plan that includes abortion coverage is required to write two separate premium checks each month: one for abortion care and one for everything else. I'm just trying to picture my son writing out his health insurance payment, and then writing another check for his part of the "abortion coverage." Is this really happening?

This new "extra" payment for abortion coverage is akin to an abortion rider -- as if women would take these extra steps to pay for insurance, with a separate check, that included abortion coverage. Women don't plan an unplanned or problem pregnancy any more than they plan for a heart attack. But they expect that they have coverage nonetheless.

Requiring people to write two separate checks for their health coverage doesn't accomplish anything other than the real goal -- making the system unworkable -- which is exactly what health care reform opponents want. Like the Stupak abortion ban, the Nelson abortion provision creates such complicated administrative burdens for health plans that it's highly unlikely insurers will offer abortion coverage at all.

The inanity of the Nelson provision is dawning on folks everywhere -- it doesn't make good health care sense, and it won't work. In fact, I'm not even sure I can explain it to my husband. He's pro-choice, but I'm not sure he's going to get why he's supposed to write a check each month to pay for abortion coverage.

This process isn't over. There are two very different bills to be reconciled, and lots of new information coming out every day about exactly what this amendment would do to women's health care. So let's focus on what's important: This is a health care bill, and the purpose of this health care bill is to increase health care coverage, not take it away. We need a health care bill that treats women and women's health just like everyone else -- that's all we're asking for.