A friend of mine recently joked that President Obama is like that cute guy at the bar who you know is talking bullshit–but you take him home anyway.
That’s pretty much what happened in March when health care reform was signed into law. We took Obama home knowing he was bullshitting us about protecting a woman’s right to choose, but we told ourselves that expanding health care coverage to millions of people—especially those who can’t get insurance because of preexisting medical conditions—would surely mean that we wouldn’t totally regret things the morning after.
Well, it’s the morning after, and if we’re not having regrets, we’re certainly wondering how we could have fallen for so much crap.
Last week, Obama administration officials announced that they don’t care if a diabetic Latina is having health complications and needs to end her pregnancy. They don’t care if she got the advice from a doctor. If she’s in the new pools, she can’t get an abortion, regardless of who pays for it. This, even though Obama and Congress made no mention of banning abortion when they agreed to grant health insurance right away to people who have pre-existing conditions and thus struggle to get private coverage. The full law won’t kick in until 2014.
That’s the worst part of this story: Obama doesn’t have to ban abortion in this part of the health care law. He doesn’t have to support our country’s two-tier abortion system, in which a woman working at Goldman Sachs can pay for the procedure as easily as she does her weekly manicure, while a woman cobbling dollars from cleaning jobs and family loans must travel to a clinic that does the abortion and pay for it out of pocket.
Yes, when health care reform passed in March, Obama signed an Executive Order saying the feds wouldn’t cover abortions—in the new insurance exchanges that start in 2014 or in community health centers, which serve the poor and undocumented immigrants. But nothing in either the executive order or the new federal law bans abortion for the temporary pools. The law actually leaves the decision of abortion coverage to states, which is why Pennsylvania health officials thought they could have a program that paid for the procedure when doctors deemed it necessary.
But when Pennsylvania’s proposal–necessary abortion included–was approved by the feds, the National Right to Life Committee freaked and the Obama administration caved, clarifying that abortion wouldn’t be covered in the temporary pools, regardless of who paid for it.
Although the phrase "pre-existing conditions" sounds like a fancy way to say cancer, private health insurance companies use it as an umbrella term for anything they might have to pay more than $10 for. This covers everything from a terminal illness to heart disease and diabetes—the latter being conditions that are prevalent in communities of color, where seeing a doctor or getting the right meds has long been a luxury.
More than one in six Latinos has a pre-existing medical condition that private health insurance would find suspect, and the number’s probably higher since more than a quarter of Latinos hadn’t visited a doctor in 2007. And while the image of a grandma, or at least someone well into her 40s, might be conjured up by the phrase as well, about one in six college-age adults have something in their medical records that would make them ineligible for private insurance.
Oh, but wait. Obama did think about young people. There are millions of dollars for abstinence-only programs included in the health care law.
The best that can be said is that Obama’s not doing a complete about face. Under the temporary program for people with pre-existing conditions, the feds will still pay for an abortion if the woman’s about to die or has been raped by a stranger, a date or her father. That’s the kind of generosity we’ve seen from the federal government since the Hyde amendment was tweaked in the late ’70s to cover such exceptions.
It’s more than probable, of course, that Obama is bowing to anti-abortion forces because he’s worried about the mid-term elections, where Democrats are expected to be the underdogs. He knows that voters who care about women’s reproductive health have nowhere else to go on Election Day but the Democratic line—which is why we keep taking him home from the bar in the first place.