Clock Ticks on Stopping Abortion Ban in Insurance Pools

The administration is poised to impose an unprecedented abortion restriction on some of the sickest uninsured women in the country.

By Michelle Chen Sep 10, 2010

About 48,000 people have petitioned against the Obama administration’s plan to make sick women pay for health care by sacrificing their reproductive rights.

Though tens of millions of uninsured Americans won’t see much change until the major reforms kick in around 2014, the Obama administration will in the meantime set up short-term "high-risk insurance pools," to cover people who would otherwise be blocked from the private insurance market due to "preexisting conditions." But the planned guidelines for this limited program contain a catch: no abortion coverage. So after the public comment period ends later this month, the administration will be poised to force an unprecedented abortion restriction on women who are conveniently desperate for any kind of health care.

As I’ve mentioned before, this quiet concession to the anti-abortion lobby isn’t just unethical and unhealthy from a reproductive justice standpoint; it’s also legally unnecessary. Despite similar existing restrictions in other federal programs, and Office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle’s insistence that "no new ground has been broken," the near-total ban would be a fresh blow to abortion access. Jessica Arons at the Center for American Progress pointed out that the new restrictions would undermine abortion access across the board by impacting even those abortions financed by private (not taxpayer) funds.

The irony of this "reform" is that high-risk insurance pools are supposed to serve as a "bridge" for people historically excluded by the industry. This includes many women suffering from conditions like diabetes or cancer, which disproportionately impact the poor and people of color. So for marginal relief from medical apartheid, those women will just have to avoid unwanted pregnancy for the next few years, or they’ll wind up sick, pregnant and in deep trouble.

While the insurance-pool rules aren’t yet finalized, the ban could play into a much larger conservative strategy to capitalize on health care reform. It’s no surprise that the abortion rights of the sickest and most vulnerable women are the first to be attacked, but this may just be a practice run for an all-out war on reproductive choice.