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December 8, 2009

Senate Rejects Divisive Attack on Abortion Rights

NARAL Pro-Choice America credits activists, mobilization efforts for defeating abortion-coverage ban in Senate bill

Washington, D.C. – Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, commended the Senate for standing up to anti-choice pressure groups and rejecting an amendment aimed at derailing the health-reform process.

Keenan also called the Senate's action a victory for pro-choice activists. Hundreds of thousands of Americans flooded Senate offices with calls, email messages, and petition signatures calling on senators to reject efforts to add an amendment similar to the House-passed Stupak-Pitts amendment.

The Senate voted by a 54-45 margin to table the amendment offered by anti-choice Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), essentially defeating the amendment.

"My heartfelt appreciation goes to all the pro-choice Americans who joined us in calling on the Senate to reject anti-choice attacks in health reform," Keenan said. "We salute our pro-choice allies who worked so hard to stop this attack that could have caused women to lose coverage in the new health-care system. The bill already includes a ban on federal funding for abortion and a requirement that only women's personal funds may be used for abortion care. That's deeply disappointing to us, but the Nelson-Hatch proposal, like the Stupak-Pitts amendment in the House, would have gone much further, making it virtually impossible for private insurance plans that participate in the new system to offer abortion coverage to women.

"We had an important win today, but the fight is far from over. We will mobilize our activists and work with our allies in Congress to stop additional attacks in the Senate and work to ensure that the final health bill does not include the dangerous and divisive Stupak-Pitts language that's currently in the House bill."

Last week, NARAL Pro-Choice America unveiled a TV ad that's running in key markets in four states. The ad followed a December 2 event on Capitol Hill where the organization and many of its state affiliates participated in a grassroots lobby day that called on the Senate to say "no" to the Stupak language. Prior to that, on November 23, the organization delivered a petition with 97,128 signatures to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, calling on the Senate to keep the Stupak-Pitts language out of its bill. More than 229,000 NARAL Pro-Choice America and state affiliate activists called, wrote to, and visited their lawmakers during the summer months, and the media have reported on NARAL Pro-Choice America's other mobilization efforts, including automated calls and volunteer-led phone banks in 20 states.

Like the House-passed Stupak-Pitts amendment, the Nelson-Hatch amendment would make it virtually impossible for private insurance companies that participate in the new system to offer abortion coverage. This would have the effect of denying women the right to use their own personal funds to purchase an insurance plan with abortion coverage in the new health system—a radical departure from the status quo. Presently, more than 85 percent of private-insurance plans cover abortion services.

The amendment also includes other egregious provisions that undermine a women's right to choose:

  • Like the Stupak-Pitts amendment, the Nelson-Hatch proposal also forbids any plan offering abortion coverage in the new system from accepting even one subsidized customer. Since more than 75 percent of the participants in the exchange will be subsidized, it seems certain that all health plans will seek and accept these individuals. In other words, the Nelson-Hatch amendment would force plans in the exchange to make a difficult choice: either offer their product to 75 percent of consumers in the marketplace or offer abortion services in their benefits package. It seems clear which choice they would make.
  • Stupak-Pitts and Nelson-Hatch supporters claim that women who require subsidies to help pay for their insurance plan would have abortion access through the option of purchasing a "rider," but this is a false promise. According to the respected National Women's Law Center, in the five states that require a separate rider for abortion coverage, there is no evidence that plans offer these riders. In fact, in North Dakota, which has this policy, the private plan that holds the state's overwhelming share of the health-insurance market (91 percent) does not offer such a rider. Furthermore, the state insurance department has no record of abortion riders from any of the five leading individual insurance plans from at least the past decade. Nothing in this amendment would ensure that rider policies are available or affordable to the more than 75 percent of individuals who will receive federal subsidies in order to help purchase coverage in the new exchange.

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