Health care reform is supposed to improve the inequities of medical treatment in the United States Initially, health care reform was about bringing the sub-par health of this wealthy nation’s impoverished citizens up to the higher standards found in other countries. But concession after troubling concession has led to a bill so full of holes that its passage in the U.S. House of Representatives is only a meager victory. The bill approved by the House includes a last-minute amendment that bars any federally subsidized insurance plan from covering abortions. This would disproportionately affect the ability of low-income women — those most at-risk for unwanted pregnancies — from obtaining abortions, and Congress must not allow abortion rights to be curbed through so-called health care reform.

The Affordable Health Care for America Act passed the House in a 220-215 vote on Saturday night, managing to salvage the hotly contested public insurance option, provisions for the creation of a national insurance exchange and new laws prohibiting insurance companies from dropping sick patients. But in exchange, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) allowed the passage of the Stupak Amendment banning health insurance subsidized by federal dollars from covering abortions
. An earlier bill would have only segregated funds used to pay for abortions from the money coming from the federal government, in keeping with 30 years of precedent against federally funded abortions.

The approved bill would ultimately make it harder for middle and lower class women to obtain an abortion. Half of women receiving health insurance through their employers have policies covering abortion. With the introduction of federally subsidized insurance available to any family of four making less than $88,000 per year, insurers would quickly move to make their plans eligible for federal support. To keep costs low, women or their employers would have to switch to subsidized health plans without abortion coverage.

More disturbingly, since the bill would require most Americans to purchase insurance or face a penalty, low-income women able to afford only a low-cost government plan would be forced to buy one without abortion coverage. In other words, the government would compel women to spend what little resources they have on a health plan without a choice in its coverage of abortion, making abortions unaffordable and inaccessible to low-income women. The result would be an unacceptable diminution of abortion rights for women at the low end of the economic ladder.

Influential organizations including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which for decades pushed for health reform, are now so determined to impose their agenda that they consider the anti-abortion amendment more important than health reform itself. But the health care debate shouldn’t be hijacked by opponents of abortion rights. The concessions to this interest group have only hindered what should be a common interest in promoting American health.

With millions of uninsured people in the United States, health reform is certainly important. But reform should not be accompanied by laws that scale back a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body. Health care reform should empower low-income Americans to live healthier, more productive lives — not limit their options. Congress should support health care reform and abortion rights by agreeing to a bill that promotes both positions.

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