Right To Choose Becomes a Middle-Class Privilege Again

I’m old enough to remember when abortions were illegal. I also remember how panicked I was when, as a college sophomore, I thought I was pregnant. I had hopes for a professional career. The college I went to didn’t even allow pregnant students to attend–let alone support them with the scholarship aid I depended on.

But my panic didn’t have to do with the prospects of becoming an unwed mother at nineteen. It was more the prospect of discovery–and of having to tell my mother what she already suspected I’d been up to.

Because I knew that middle-class girls like me could–and did–get abortions. Clean, safe procedures performed in doctors’ offices or hospitals. All you had to do was ask around to find a sympathetic ob-gyn–and come up with the money.

I’m writing this because we seem to be headed back to those bad old days. They’re already a reality for poor women who depend on Medicaid. The same is true for federal employees, since health insurance plans available to them don’t cover abortions except in cases of rape, incest or where necessary to save the woman’s life. For women serving overseas in the military, only risk to life triggers coverage.

Now Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) has been placated by an amendment to the Senate health care bill that would allow states to prohibit abortion coverage under any insurance plan in the exchanges they will administer. Presumably at least some of the 17 states that already cover the costs of abortions for poor women will take a pass. But what about the rest?

Granted, the Nelson “compromise” isn’t as punitive as the House bill, which would establish the same prohibition nationwide. But the administrative complexities it establishes, e.g., separate accounts for prospective abortion services, seem likely to deter insurers from offering coverage, even where permissible. Whether they do or not, it appears that women with subsidized coverage would have to pay the full cost.

So once again, women who can afford to pay for abortions performed by qualified doctors in safe, sanitary conditions will get them if they choose. The rest … Well, just read what one ob-gyn remembers from the bad old days we’re reverting to.

We’re told that we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, that we won’t get a better health care bill if we ditch this one, that there will be opportunities to improve the new system over time.

I can’t argue with that. But when Congress passes this give-with-one-hand, take-away-with-the-other thing it’s created, you won’t see me dancing in the streets.


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