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Abortion and the health-care bill

US House Democrats made a huge concession on women's health the other day, in order to move forward the massive healthcare bill that passed 220-215 on Saturday night. Under pressure from (shocker!) the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as conservative Dems who said they'd hold up passage of the whole shebang if certain abortion restrictions weren't in place (and despite the fact that there is already an existing ban on using federal funds to pay for abortion -- it's called the Hyde Amendment), Nancy Pelosi and other pragmatic politicians allowed the Stupak Amendment (so named for its legislative sponsor, Bart Stupak, a Democrat from Michigan) into the bill. 

Basically, the amendment states not just that federal money can't be used to pay for abortions, but that "any plan purchased with any federal subsidy cannot cover abortion services -- even with private funds. Plus, the public plan won't cover abortion care. While plans participating in the health insurance exchange are legally permitted to offer a version of the plan that does cover abortion -- enrollment limited to those who pay for the entire plan without any subsidy--it's unlikely plans will go the extra mile to offer that coverage," according to Emily Douglas's analysis in The Nation

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England issued the following statement about the amendment: "Make no mistake about it - the Stupak-Pitts amendment is the most extreme of any anti-women's health amendment considered (all of which have been rejected outright) by the five committees of jurisdiction. It is unquestionably a ban on abortion coverage under health care reform."

And the National Organization of Women had this to say: "The House of Representatives has dealt a devastating blow to women's fundamental right to self-determination in order to buy a few votes for health care reform."

But, as Maine Democratic Rep. Michael Michaud (who voted for the amendment, much to progressive's dismay) said on the 103.9 WVOM the other day, "if [the Stupak amendment] had not been adopted, the bill would definitely not have passed in the House." 

Maine's other Democratic representative, Chellie Pingree, is staunchly opposed to the amendment; signed a letter with 40 other Dems vowing to vote against the (post-conference committee) health care legislation if the Stupak language stands.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said he wants to put the healthcare bill on the Senate floor by Thanksgiving, and to vote on a bill by Christmas. Earlier this week, several female Democratic senators met to discuss how they would address abortion restrictions in the Senate bill. (Even GOP represenatives are keeping their distance.) Of course, all eyes will be on Maine's Republican, "pro-choice" senators to see what steps they'll take w/r/t protecting abortion access or not. 

 ***

In other health care news, Maine was described thusly in today's NYT: "Maine is the Charlie Brown of health care. The state’s legislators have tried for decades to fix its system, but their efforts have always fallen short: health insurance premiums are still among the least affordable in the nation, health care spending per person is among the highest and hospital emergency rooms are among the most crowded. Indeed, many overhauls to the system have done little more than squeeze a balloon — solving one problem while worsening another."

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