Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Coat Hanger)

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Coat Hanger)

Yesterday, the NY Times ran self-serving press release op-ed from Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Coat Hanger), in which he claims his harmless little amendment was no worse than current law.

The language in our amendment is completely consistent with the Hyde Amendment, which in the 33 years since its passage has done nothing to inhibit private health insurers from offering abortion coverage. There is no reason to believe that a continuation of this policy would suddenly create undue hardship for the insurance industry — or for those who wish to use their private insurance to pay for an abortion.

For example, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program provides health insurance through a variety of companies to more than eight million Americans — but it does not allow abortion coverage in any of its policies.

Forget for a moment the logic disconnect here that Stupak and his coalition of anti-choice Democrats in the House would threaten to derail the entire health care reform bill just to maintain a status quo that wouldn’t have changed one iota if they had left well enough alone.

No, let’s take a moment instead to see how great that FEHBP program is working out for women.

Feldman, a 41-year-old federal lawyer, and her husband had been trying for two years to have a baby. Sadly, her doctor “made it very clear I wasn’t to continue this pregnancy,” she said.

An abortion was medically necessary. She had little choice.

But after the jolt of the diagnosis and the emotional pain of the procedure, Feldman was in for another shock — sticker shock. She thought her health insurance policy through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) would cover the $9,000 cost of the abortion. It didn’t.

Stupak goes on.

Under our amendment, women who receive federal subsidies will be prohibited from using them to pay for insurance policies that cover abortion. The amendment does not prevent private plans from offering abortion services and it does not prohibit women from purchasing abortion coverage with their own money. The amendment specifically states that even those who receive federal subsidies can purchase a supplemental policy with private money to cover abortions.

Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA), responds.

There is nothing in the Stupak-Pitts Amendment to ensure that riders are available or affordable to individuals purchasing coverage in the Exchange.There is no evidence that insurance companies actually offer such riders in the five states that currently require women to purchase a separate rider for abortion coverage. It is not practical to expect women to plan ahead for an unintended pregnancy, or a pregnancy that goes terribly wrong, by purchasing a supplemental rider. Furthermore, if only women of childbearing age purchase such a rider then the premium for the rider will likely cost almost as much as the service.

Again, Stupak,

Some opponents of the amendment have tried to argue that it would effectively end health insurance coverage of abortion in both the private and public sectors. This argument is nothing more than a scare tactic.

The truth is, most health policy experts agree that the Stupak amendment would effectively ban reproductive choice services coverage in the exchanges created under health care reform.

Indeed, Stupak’s amendment does say that health insurers can offer plans with abortion coverage to people who are paying the full premiums themselves, as long as they offer identical plans without abortion coverage to people who are getting subsidies. But most insurance experts say that’s not likely to happen.

“I really think it would be impractical,” says Robert Laszewski, a health insurance industry consultant. Several health insurance companies contacted for this story declined to comment, citing the sensitivity of the subject matter.

Laszewski says the problem is that by all estimates, the vast majority of people who will be shopping in the new exchanges will be getting subsidies, so they won’t be allowed to get abortion coverage. Thus, if a health insurer did offer a separate plan with abortion coverage, it would only be available to a small universe of buyers, and it simply wouldn’t make much business sense.

“It’s not an ideological issue, it’s not about abortion or not abortion,” Laszewski says. “It’s about what is administratively simpler, easier to administer. It just adds a level of complexity they will likely avoid.”

Sara Rosenbaum, a health lawyer and professor at George Washington University, agrees that it’s impractical to expect health insurance plans to cover abortion in the exchanges, even for people paying the full premiums without federal help.

“If you speak to insurers in the industry, they will tell you that they simply can’t operate under these circumstances,” Rosenbaum says. “They need to be able to offer standard products that get administered in a standard way for everybody.”

The article just discusses what would happen within the exchange, but what about outside the exchanges? Well, in both the House and the Senate bills, the exchanges are going to expand

In theory, by 2015 all employers, and therefore all Americans not on Medicare or Medicaid, could start using the new health insurance exchange for health care.

As mcjoan noted, that’d be quite the coup for Stupak, his C-Street pals, and the bishops.

We can’t let that happen. We just can’t.

We have phone banks coming up this week in the DC Metro area, New York City, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and California.

Join one of phone bank efforts already going, or if there’s not one in your district, to start one of your own. It’s easy, it’s fun, and best of all, you will make a difference.


New York (Manhattan), NY


Mar Vista, CA

Downtown Los Angeles, CA

Simi Valley, CA

Austin, Texas

Rockville, MD
(Jane Hamsher will be at this one!)


San Francisco, CA


San Diego CA


Elizabethtown, PA


New York (Manhattan), NY

Denver, CO

Marta Evry

Marta Evry

My day job is as a film editor for theatrical motion pictures and network television, but my passion is for social justice.