An amendment added to the Senate health care reform bill last week would effectively force health insurance companies to enter into contracts with entities such as Planned Parenthood, who perform abortions. One of the most striking elements of this amendment is the sweeping powers it would grant the federal government.
If enacted, the legislation would nullify many state-level limitations and regulations on abortions, and would override state laws currently in place. Laws, created and voted on at the state level, which represent the ideals and values of citizens statewide, would quickly be cloaked and invalidated.
As stated in the Hyde Act authorized in 2006, abortions are not legally funded at the federal level – although President Obama had lifted some of these previously instated restrictions in January.1 Government-funded programs, such as Medicaid, do not include any federal level provisions to provide coverage for abortion procedures.2 Under certain circumstances, the state can include provisions to fund certain procedures qualified as medically necessary.
What we have been able to achieve at the state level, however, is notable. Through state level action, North Carolina has been able to eliminate many controversial partial birth and third trimester procedures, instate consent requirements for minors who otherwise would be able to walk into abortion clinics and across state lines, as well as create penalties for unlawful abortions. 3 Once the federal government begins paying, insurance providers, medical providers, doctors, hospitals and patients would all be forced to comply with a new sweeping set of government created rules. It is likely that all of this progress and back scaling of illegal abortion practices would be lost if the federal government adopted such legislation as was proposed by the Mikulski amendment, all at the expense of the taxpayer.
Abortion is no doubt a hot-button issue, and one that has been all too easily lumped together (whether or not justifiably) with other reproductive medical procedures and debates on women’s rights. To date, no one has effectively been able to isolate the term or action, and build consensus to structure the legislation around one single issue – the termination of the development of a fetus. Because circumstances do arise when the mother’s health is in danger, and even because abortion under the law has expanded to include a wide array of procedures, in some cases including those post-miscarriage that do affect a living fetus, it is impossible to develop proper anti-abortion legislation at the federal level – or even adequate and effective regulation. Until this becomes possible politically, it is imperative that the states retain effective decision-making and regulatory powers, to act as a counter balance to federal control.
The amendment was sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, (D- MD), and passed on a 12 to11 margin despite objections to modify and restrict the language of the amendment to exclude abortions. The amendment was opposed by every Republican on the committee, as well as one Democrat, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA).4 Both North Carolina Sens. Richard Burr (R) and Kay Hagan (D) are members of the Senate HELP committee. Hagan voted in favor of the amendment.