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

Stopping Stupak in the Senate

As you know, last week the U.S. Senate began debate on our version of the health insurance reform legislation. As I wrote a few weeks ago, the fact that we have gotten this far is monumental but the fight is not over. The debate has already been fierce and I'm extremely disappointed that one of my fellow Democratic colleagues is introducing a measure similar to the House's Stupak-Pitts amendment. I was proud that the bill brought to the Senate did not have this provision in it, but the opponents of choice are fighting hard to get it put back in and I am prepared to fight this effort.

And I'm going to need your help. Please join me in signing Emily"s LIST's Stop Stupak petition here.

It's important that we set the record straight about some grave misinformation being spread about what the Senate bill means for women and reproductive rights.

The underlying legislation before us maintains a historic compromise that we have had in this country by barring the use of federal funds for the full range of reproductive services except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of a woman. That is the current law of the land and the Senate bill goes to great lengths to maintain current federal law.

The legislation would segregate public funds from private funds, so that only people's personal, private money will contribute to their reproductive coverage. This is not an accounting gimmick as some critics have falsely charged. In fact, this kind of arrangement is often used when public funds are given to parochial schools or other religious institutions to support the separation of church and state.

The Senate version would also require that at least one plan within the health insurance exchange covers reproductive services and one that does not. And it would authorize the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to audit any and all plans to make absolutely certain that abortion is not under any circumstances being paid for with federal dollars.

This arrangement is squarely in line with the historic compromise that we have had in this country that keeps federal funds from being used to pay for abortions. As we debate the solution to the deepening health care crisis that has affected every citizen, every business, ever community in the country, this is not the time or place to instigate a new battle over reproductive rights. Families and businesses who are getting buried under the weight of the current cost of health care deserve better.

While I oppose the Hyde Amendment, I am willing to accept it as settled law to move health reform forward. The claim that proponents of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment often make that this is simply a continuation of current federal law is simply wrong. The fact is, such proposals go far beyond settled law, and will in fact bring about significant change and dramatic new limitations on reproductive access in this country.

It would establish for the very first time restrictions on people who pay for their own private health insurance. This is not partisan spin, it is fact. A new study by the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services concluded "the treatment exclusions required under the Stupak/Pitts Amendment will have an industry-wide effect, eliminating coverage of medically indicated abortions over time for all women, not only those whose coverage is derived through a health insurance exchange."

This is government invading the personal lives of Americans and it puts the health of women and young girls at grave risk.

In fact, this amendment represents the only place in the entire health care bill where the opponents are actually correct. It limits access to medical care by giving the government, not the patient or the doctor, the power to make medical decisions.

There is no doubt -- a lack of access to full reproductive health care puts the lives of women and girls at grave risk. The Stupak measure poses greater restriction on low-income women and those who are more likely to receive some kind of subsidy and less likely to be able to afford a supplemental insurance policy. Denying low-income women reproductive coverage in this way is discriminatory and dangerous. Without proper coverage, women will be forced to postpone care while attempting to find the money they need to pay for it. Such a delay that can lead to increased costs and graver health risks, particularly for younger girls. Or these women will be forced to return to dangerous, back alley providers. Women and girls deserve better.

It is my hope that we will be able to defeat this kind of radical change to federal law, pass a health care bill in the Senate that respects current law, and strip the dangerous Stupak measure during the conference process. But to do this, I will need your help. Please join me in signing Emily"s LIST's Stop Stupak petition here. Also, continue your important advocacy and activism that has been so instrumental in getting us to this point.

The health care package that we pass out of the Senate must move us forward towards quality, affordable health care for all Americans and I urge my fellow Senators to oppose any Stupak measure. Instead, we must all work together to preserve current law and respect the private choices made between a woman and her doctor.