Health Insurance

Republicans are using healthcare repeal to try to roll back abortion rights. Who will speak up for American women’s needs?

Anti-abortion campaigner
In November 2009, before the healthcare bill was passed, Democratic legislators were already being targeted by anti-abortion protesters: here, a demonstrator is arrested by US Capitol police after refusing to leave then House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in Washington, DC. Now, mainstream Republican lawmakers are making the defunding of abortion part of their campaign to repeal the healthcare act. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The 22 January marked the 38th anniversary of Roe v Wade – and already Republicans are celebrating with fresh attacks on abortion rights. Representative Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, recently put out the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act”, a bill that would permanently prohibit taxpayer money being spent on carrying out abortions. Such a ban is already in place but must be renewed every year by Congress; this would get rid of that hassle.


And more disturbing, given its potential impact on an entire range of women’s health needs, is the “Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act”, sponsored by Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana. If passed, the law would deny federal money to any organisation that provides abortions at all – the argument being that there is no definitive way to guarantee that funds used for, say, birth control or STD treatments won’t slip into the “abortion pot”. The effect would be to severely limit, if not eliminate, groups like Planned Parenthood that provide a variety of family planning needs.

The irony, of course, is that none of this will actually lower the number of abortions in America. Just look at Latin America, where abortion is almost unanimously banned, but where abortion rates are nonetheless among the highest in the world. Instead, asKatha Pollitt recently pointed out in the Nation, all these restrictions and hurdles will only force more women to risk having illegal abortions after they realise the clinic in their town has been defunded. The truth is Planned Parenthood, a huge provider of contraception, has probably done more to lower the abortion rate in America than all this conservative posturing.

Nevertheless, while these bills do not decrease abortion, they do definitely degrade women’s political and social status – which may be the larger goal, anyway. After all, in the case of abortion, while many other countries, including the UK, consider a woman’s decision to have an abortion to be a serious health issue, Republicans treat the procedure like an unfortunate side-effect of women’s petty, selfish natures. Instead of acknowledging the often difficult physical and economic consequences of carrying and caring for a child, the assumption behind much of their rhetoric is that women cannot be trusted to make such a decision – hence laws in some states that require women be shown an ultrasound before a doctor can proceed with a termination.

One effect of this is that women’s needs in society are increasingly seen as expendable, even when there is widespread support for them. Eighty-two percent of American women have used the pill, for instance, and yet, somehow, Republicans have found a way to make even this controversial. Indeed, the 2010 healthcare act requires all new health insurance plans to pay for preventative services for women – but be prepared for a battle over whether birth control is considered preventative.

If it even comes to that. As Sharon Lerner wrote, also in the Nation, even “the Obama administration is moving cautiously on the issue.” I somehow doubt lawmakers are losing sleep over the prospect of a similar showdown on the subject of vasectomies, which are widely covered by insurance agencies. Of course, it’s unfathomable.

In December, despite widespread support for abortion rights throughout most of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights upheld Ireland’s ban on the procedure, arguing that since the country’s law is founded “on the profound moral views of the Irish people as to the nature of life”, it should be granted an extra “margin of appreciation”. On Congressman Smith’s bill, House Speaker John Boehner applied the same logic: “A ban on taxpayer funding of abortion is the will of the people, and it ought to be the will of the land.”

What is too often not being said is that this stance only makes sense if you exclude vast numbers of women from the equation, from what constitutes a people and a land. Are the thousands of Irish women who travel each year to another country for one of the most common medical procedures on earth not considered members of “the Irish people”? And similarly, are the millions of American women – more than one in three – who will have an abortion by their 45th birthday not American?

Republicans, and especially the religious right, have won far too much by skewing the image of the average American. It’s not just crazy liberals who get abortions or use birth control, but conservatives are so adept at giving this impression that even leading Democrats are often, at best, sheepish on the subject, focusing on decreasing abortion instead of also defending it as a human right. Of course, getting an abortion is no walk in the park – many decisions in life are not – but if performed safely, it can provide great relief and promise. Democrats would do well to remember that there are millions of women out there who can, openly or just in the voting booth, attest to this.

Download the recent study on the cost of unsafe abortion to developing country health system



Treating the complications that result from unsafe abortion costs Africa and Latin America $227/280 million each year. These costs (reported in 2006 US$) place a considerable added strain on struggling national health systems in Africa and Latin America, which spend an estimated $490 million annually treating complications from pregnancies and births. Moreover, unsafe abortion costs the developing world at least $341 million when the Asian and Pacific regions are taken into account.


In Good Conscience: Conscience Clauses and Reproductive Rights in Europe

This publication provides an overview of conscience clauses and reproductive rights in Europe, along with a progressive Catholic perspective on conscience, conscience clauses and the provision of reproductive healthcare services.

Download here:–Europe.pdf


According to the report published by Macedonian Health Ministry, last year only 500 women have voluntarily decided to undergo abortion in Skopje. The decline is striking compared with the statistics coming from the early 90s when there were 6000 interrupted pregnancies in the country. According to doctors of the State Gynecologist Clinic, the reduced number is no reason to rejoice as it doesn’t take into account the unaccounted abortions that take place in private hospitals and clinics across the country.  In fact, the government clinic continues to receive patients with complications caused by inappropriate and unprofessional termination of pregnancy. The research shows that level of abortion remains high and knowledge about contraception is scarce. According to the survey conducted by Gallup BRIMA in 2009, revealed that 94 percent of young women between 15 and 19 years and more than 50 percent Macedonian women were not using any contraceptives.


A Missouri law that includes a number of new abortion restrictions was enacted Saturday. The legislation became law last month after Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D) avoided signing the law by citing a provision in the Missouri constitution that allows a bill to become law without the governor’s signature, thereby avoiding a direct endorsement of the law.

The new law expands upon Missouri’s’ existing abortion restrictions by instituting a 24-hour waiting period prior to the procedure, requiring abortion providers to present patients with printed materials detailing the risks of the procedure as well as the physiological characteristics of an unborn fetus, and mandating that a qualified professional “discuss the medical assistance and counseling resources available, advise the woman of the father’s liability for child support, and provide information about the Alternative to Abortion Program.” The law also includes a provision that would ban abortion coverage in the state’s soon-to-be-created health insurance exchange mandated by the new federal health reform package.

Additionally, the law requires women to have the opportunity to view an “active ultrasound” and hear “the heartbeat of the unborn child, if the heartbeat is audible.” It also requires women to be told that a fetus may be able to feel pain. An abortion cannot be performed until women seeking the procedure complete and sign a checklist that states she has been fully informed of all required information.

According to the Courthouse News Service, every woman who seeks an abortion procedure must receive a pamphlet that prominently displays the following language: “The life of each human being begins at conception…Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”

According to the Kansas City Star, the only clinics that offer abortion services in Missouri are located in Columbia and St. Louis. Those who advocated against the new laws argued that because women in Missouri often must travel significant distances to obtain an abortion, the new requirements increase the cost (in both money and time) to gain access to the procedure.

« Previous Page