Tyler Bilbo, Staff Writer
Ideology: Yellow Dog Democrat | Writing From: Georgetown University

If you had told me a few months ago that the passage of health care reform would ultimately come down to the divisive issue of abortion, I would have called you crazy. Yet that is exactly what happened in the House of Representatives with the passage of an amendment that drastically undermines Roe vs. Wade.

The Stupak-Pitts Amendment is a despicable affront to a woman’s reproductive freedom that effectively prevents lower income women from getting an abortion. Of course, I speak only of safe procedures that are thankfully legal.

Recently out of college with a promising future ahead of her, Marie Johnstone found out she was pregnant in the mid-1950s. The father of her baby was an older man with whom she had no intention of marrying. Unlike today’s women, Marie could not choose to undergo a safe abortion. After she obtained enough money from her baby’s father, she delved into the underground world of abortion and found a man who performed the incredibly unsafe procedure in an isolated carport. Marie was one of the lucky ones. While she bled profusely for days, she did not die or sustain any permanent physical damage.

The same could not be said of a tragic number of Marie’s contemporaries. Marie’s abortion was one of at least 200,000 illegal abortions that occurred in the 1950s (200,000 is the conservative estimate. Some experts say that number is closer to 1.2 million). Within that same period, between 160 and 260 women died from unsafe abortions while thousands sustained life-threatening injuries. Everyone, even those who equate abortion with premeditated murder, should feel disgusted when they hear about the consequences of unsafe abortions.

The Stupak-Pitts Amendment re-creates the kind of society that brought Marie into that carport in the early 1950s. The Affordable Health Care for America Act that passed the House by a vote of 220-215 establishes a central health insurance exchange that attempts to make our chaotic health care market more efficient. The exchange is structured so that it covers lower and middle income Americans who will almost certainly require access to government-issued affordability credits. The Stupak-Pitts Amendment effectively prevents women who participate in this exchange from accessing an insurance plan that covers abortion, even women who pay out of pocket through the private portion of their health care premium.

How do Congressmen Bart Stupak and Joe Pitts get away with a piece of legislation that effectively bans a legal procedure? They claim that a provision that allows women to purchase a separate insurance policy, known as a “rider” in the bill, sufficiently covers abortion. The abortion rider would supplement a woman’s primary health care plan and would function as an additional insurance policy and an unnecessary financial burden.

The establishment of an abortion rider is based on a naïve and insulting notion that women plan for an abortion. Unexpected pregnancies are exactly what they are: unexpected. Stupak and Pitts are either incapable of understanding this reality or they harbor the ugliest and most sexist notions about female promiscuity.

Proponents of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment have tried to frame the legislation as nothing more than an additional assurance that the Hyde Amendment will be applied to health care reform. The Stupak Amendment, however, goes far beyond the scope of Hyde. While Hyde restricts the direct appropriation of funds to pay for abortions through the annual budget for the Department of Health and Human Services, the Stupak Pitts Amendment would prevent a woman from accessing an abortion through her own private insurer.

I urge Bart Stupak and other anti-abortion politicians to advance legislation that does not exclusively target the lower and moderate income women that would participate in a health insurance exchange. Severing access to a safe procedure for non-affluent women would further exacerbate our country’s unjust delivery of health care and I pray that the Stupak-Pitts Amendment is omitted from a final health care bill.