03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Stupak-Pitts Vs. Bubble Boy

When little Falcon Heene purportedly disappeared into the sky on October 15, it was splashed across Facebook and on the tips of tongues everywhere.

On November 22, Adam Lambert grinded his crotch into a dancer's face, and the hypersexual act wormed its way to Thanksgiving Day discussions across the country.

On November 7, members of the U.S. House of Representatives approved a health care reform bill amendment that, if enacted, will gravely undermine women's right and ability to obtain an abortion...and yet barely anyone I know was talking about it.

One reason: It's tricky. The wording found in the Stupak-Pitts amendment (and now the Nelson-Hatch-Casey Amendment) is confusing at best, and deceptive at worst. For those who have just read bits and pieces, my fear is many might come away with the thought, "Well, I'm not planning on having an abortion, so this isn't a big deal for me," or "Even I were to have an abortion, I wouldn't use my insurance to pay for it anyway." The problem is, nobody plans to have an abortion...and yet more than one in every three of us will have had an abortion by the age 45. (According to the Guttmacher Institute). This number may seem high, but I guarantee, that, as is typically the case with miscarriage, if women would let their guard down and speak openly with each other, we would realize that our best friends, our coworkers, out mothers -- they've all had abortions. Teenagers with Powerpuff Girls backpacks get them. Sorority girls get them. Their college professors get them. Married suburban mothers get them. Rape victims get them. And I feel confident in guessing that not one of them planned on it, or was skipping and singing a happy tune on her way to the appointment, or forgot about it after the fact. And if this amendment becomes law, it one day may not even be our choice to pay for an abortion with our own insurance.

I spoke with Beth Kanter, Senior Vice President of External Affairs for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, about Stupak, and why women everywhere -- even those who have never had an abortion or think they never will -- should be outraged...or at least irritated enough to put down the US Weekly and call their Senator. As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed not that long ago, abortion rights "center on a woman's autonomy to determine her life's course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature." Anything that debilitates that right debilitates women.

What is the Stupak amendment?
The Stupak amendment would ban private and public health insurance that covers abortion care for millions of women. It says that any health plan that receives any funds under health care reform can't cover abortion care, even if it's paid for using private premiums that health plans receive directly from individuals. (Monday, in the Senate, an almost identical amendment was introduced by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT); on Tuesday, the Senate rejected the amendment 54-45 vote.) If a plan wanted to offer coverage in the exchange to both groups of individuals, it would have to offer two different plans: one with abortion coverage for women without subsidies, and one without abortion coverage for women with subsidies. According to insurance industry experts, this will never happen. Without a doubt, the effect of the Stupak amendment is to ban abortion coverage across the entire exchange, for women who receive subsidies and for women who are paying 100 percent of their premiums with their own money.

Also, the Stupak-Pitts amendment says it would allow women to purchase a separate rider to cover abortion. But such abortion riders do not exist because women do not plan to have unintended pregnancies or medically complicated pregnancies that require ending the pregnancy. These so-called 'abortion riders,' which would be the only insurance policy through which abortion care could be covered in the 'exchange,' are discriminatory and illogical. Proposing a separate 'abortion rider' or 'single-service plan' is tantamount to banning abortion coverage since no insurance company would offer such a policy.

What is "the exchange"?
The new health insurance exchange, or marketplace, aims to provide a new source of affordable, quality coverage for two significant portions of the population. First, it would offer private health plans and a public option to many of the 46 million uninsured Americans, and many of those newly insured will qualify for affordability credits.

The exchange would also offer coverage to millions of Americans who work for themselves or for small businesses.

Is it common for women with, say, Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO to use their insurance?
It's hard to measure. Currently 87% of insurance providers offer abortion coverage. A recent Guttmacher Institute survey found that only 13% of all women who had an abortion in 2001 used health insurance to pay for these procedures, but the authors explained that the figure is inaccurate, because the study that generated this percentage included all women who obtained an abortion in 2001, including those on Medicaid and those without insurance, but didn't account for women who may have paid out of pocket and sought reimbursement from their insurance company. The study authors said that if the study included only women with insurance coverage, the percentage of those who used their insurance to cover the procedure would be dramatically higher. That said, some women fear using their benefits because of the stigma and the Stupak amendment would only make the situation worse. What we don't want is for women to be worse off with health care coverage than they were before, and if this ban goes into effect, they will be.

I have insurance, why should I care about this?
The reality is, this affects more than just people using federal subsidies. It'll impact women who have coverage currently through policies but by small employers, because those employers could decide to transfer their workers into the exchange. Ultimately, as larger employers are permitted to transfer as well, even more women will lose the abortion coverage they may now have. Thirdly, a recent study by George Washington University discusses the industry-wide impact of the Stupak amendment, which would basically lead to the elimination of health plan coverage for nearly all abortions. Even though the amendment appears to only address plans that receive federal exchange subsidies, even health plans sold to private large employers that purchase outside the exchange are likely to ultimately be affected. These health insurance plans are going to go down to the lowest common denominator. So if not offering abortion becomes the norm, that will become the norm across the entire insurance industry.

What is the Capps compromise?
The Capps compromise is a compromise worked out by pro-choice and anti-choice members of Congress to ensure that no federal funding would be used to pay for abortions while also ensuring that women do not lose the benefits they currently have. We are opposed to the notion that abortion should be singled out under health care reform, but we would be willing to accept this provision if it would mean ensuring affordable, quality care for all Americans. But a ban on abortion like the one proposed by Rep. Stupak would go too far.

Stupak, Pitts, Hatch and Nelson are all men. Why are men grabbing the reigns on such an inherently female issue?
Not only men, but it seems the Catholic Church is driving this whole train. These amendments were created in conjunction with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops - they were the most public backer of these amendments and have been working with members of Congress to get these amendments in. It's our opinion that women's health care should be in the hands of women and their doctors, not politicians and Catholic bishops.

What can I do?
Planned Parenthood had an online petition which garnered over 100,000 signatures. Now that the Senate vote has taken place, you can thank your senator for voting against the Nelson-Hatch amendment by clicking here. .

Kudos to the 100,000 women and men who signed Planned Parenthood's petition to pass health care reform and stop Stupak, including celebrities such as Julianne Moore, Christy Turlington, Kathleen Turner, Aisha Tyler, Kate Walsh (Private Practice) Dana Delany (Desperate Housewives), David Eigenberg (Sex & the City), Jane Fonda and Stanley Tucci. You can learn more about abortion rights legislation and other women's health care issues here.

Remember, social media is a great way to spread the word. Become a fan of Planned Parenthood on Facebook. And copy and paste the following text to your Facebook wall:

The Senate rejected the Nelson-Hatch-Casey Amendment, but the Stupak-Pitts Amendment is still in place. Click here and urge President Obama, Majority Leader Reid, and Speaker Pelosi to stand up for women and our right to choose.

I promise, it makes for a much more substantial Status Update than, "Team Edward!"

On January 21, 2010, Planned Parenthood of Illinois will host The Future of Choice in celebration of the 37th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. Dr. Ruth Westheimer will be the evening keynote. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here or email Andrea at

For more information on Stupak, visit Planned Parenthood's Action Center