Amendment in health care bill raises questions about abortion

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December 4, 2009

On a decidedly liberal campus, it should come as little surprise that many Mills College students, staff and faculty think the House of Representatives made a mistake when it recently passed an amendment into the historic heath care reform bill that severely restricted access to abortions by women.

On late Nov. 7, the House voted 240 to 194 to pass an abortion amendment by Republican congressmen Joe Pitts and Bart Stupak as part of the bill. Essentially the amendment would ban federal funds from being used for abortion services by those who are enrolled in the public health care option, except for in cases of rape or incest or if the mother’s life is in jeopardy.

Many of those on campus who oppose the abortion amendment do not believe threats to a woman’s access to abortion services should be overlooked in order to pass a public option for health care.

“The amendment is extremely unfortunate,” said Carol Chetkovich, professor of public policy. “Abortion is a medical procedure and it should be covered like other medical procedures.”

“If passed, the rights of women will be sacrificed in the interest of passing legislation,” she said.

Government professor Martha Johnson said she questions if the amendment will be seen as a necessary expense of getting legislation passed. “I wonder if the Democrats will accept the amendment as a cost of getting the health care reform bill through,” she said.

But people differ as to whether they believe this amendment will actually pass with the final version of the bill that becomes law. The Senate is now voting on proposals about preventative health coverage and Medicare, and the Senate will soon consider the abortion amendment, which will need 60 votes to pass.

“I do not think that the amendment will actually pass with the health care reform bill. In fact, I am not holding my breath. The health care bill may not pass at all,” said Jessie Heminway, faculty administrative assistant for the women’s studies department. “I think it is a step backward. It shows close minded, backward thinking.”

Some believe the amendment might have passed in the House due to not enough women in Congress.

“Maybe if more women were in Congress, the need for this kind of medical coverage might be understood better,” said Chetkovich.

Johnson predicted the amendment might cause a chain reaction, affecting overall insurance coverage for abortion. “This might snowball,” she said. “Insurance companies are concerned with convenience and will not want to create two insurance plans, one with abortions covered and one without. Abortion will probably not be covered at all.”

Students involved with the Women’s Health Resource Center on campus believe the amendment would have negative consequences for women across the country.

“The amendment is impractical. It means that unwanted children are going to be born. There will be a lot of repercussions. Deaths may rise because women who can not afford abortions themselves may turn to back alley abortions where death is more likely,” said junior Audriannah Levine, a member of WHRC.

There are members of the College community who support the amendment. Stephanie Scerra, a first-year, said she is against abortion except for in extreme circumstances.

“This law is far better than some other laws that people are trying to pass. Women should only have abortions if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or if the women’s life or fetus’s life is in jeopardy,” said Scerra. “You need to have a legitimate medical reason for an abortion.”

The Fem Dems will be holding an open forum on health care on Dec. 7, at 7:30 p.m. in the Student Union. They will most likely discuss issues of reproductive health as part of the event.


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