(Flickr / gnarlsmonkey)
Politico has a story today about how abortion groups feel abandoned by a pro-choice president and Congress that’s largely pro-choice. They used the example of the recent Health and Human Services (HHS) decision to exclude abortion services from the newly created high-risk insurance pools for the otherwise uninsurable.
“We’re stuck in a slow backpedal,” [says] Laura MacCleery, government relations director for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “There needs to be a sense that, while health reform moves us forward, it moves us backwards in terms of reproductive rights.”
While it’s true that abortion rights have taken some hits while Barack Obama has been president, it’s not quite true to say that women have been abandoned in reproductive rights more generally. It is worthwhile to note that the health care reform bill will cover millions more women than previously had access to health insurance. Young women can stay on their parents health insurance until they turn 26 and may not have gaps in coverage that they previously did following graduation from college or high school. Women who have more consistent access to coverage will better be able to have continuous access to birth control and other reproductive health care.
Recent surveys by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research policy group, noted that the number of abortions became more concentrated among poor women in 2008. Women are, of course, more likely to become pregnant if they don’t have consistent access to birth control. From another report [PDF] called “Preventing Unintended Pregnancy: The Need And the Means,” senior public policy associate Adam Sonfield writes,
[R]esearchers have found serious gaps in private coverage of prescription contraceptive methods; policymakers and advocates have worked over the past decade through legislatures, government agencies, the courts, the media and employers to improve this coverage … And even when private insurance does pay for contraception, women may be required to contribute high copayments …
As Dana Goldstein notes in her recent reporting on this issue, there’s a distinct possibility that HHS will classify birth control as regular preventative care — and that means that insurers could be obligated to provide it without asking for a copay. Again, this could go far for poor women who sometimes have to make difficult monetary decisions between birth control or other daily necessities.
The health care reform legislation also outlawed denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, which included pregnancy — a major victory for reproductive rights activists since prenatal care is clearly part of the cannon of reproductive health care needs.
Still it’s hard to deny that for those who are passionate about access to abortion, that particular right has taken a political beading during the Obama administration. The proposed Stupak amendment threatened to eliminate abortion care coverage from private insurance plans (in addition to publicly funded ones like Medicaid that have been illegal under the Hyde amendment, which has been renewed every year since 1976). While the final health care reform bill included a slightly lesser version of the Stupak amendment, put forth by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), many pro-choice advocates felt that abortion access shouldn’t have have even been under negotiation during a progressive administration and Congress while pushing forth major progressive reform.
Additionally, abortion rights groups have noticed a dip in fundraising during the Obama administration. NARAL, a pro-choice advocacy group, has only raised $526,431 in the 2010 election cycle compared with the millions they raked in during both Bush administrations, according to the Politico report. This is similar to dips in fundraising during the Clinton administration.
Such frustration expressed by abortion-rights advocates in the Politico article is understandable. After all, abortion rights groups feel they’re on the ropes enough already, and hoped that a pro-choice administration would more boldly advocate for abortion rights. Instead they saw a careful political calculation that used abortion coverage as a bargaining chip. But while abortion rights might be in the “slow backpedal” that MacCleery from the Center for Reproductive Rights described, it is important to remember that the overall health care for women is probably going to be good for women, probably going a long way to help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and increase access to pregnancy care.