Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Generation, Threats to Roe, and a Call to Action

Last week, as we celebrated the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I couldn't help but do some deep thinking about my generation and the future of reproductive justice. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade guaranteed a federal Constitutional right to abortion. When I was born, a decade later in 1983, the world had changed for women.

My generation grew up in a post-Roe world. We knew about condoms and birth control and in NYS, we could get birth control without parental consent. Some of us had comprehensive sex ed in our schools (though too many of us still suffered through ineffective abstinence-only programs). We’ve had access to safe and legal reproductive health services all our lives.

Fast forward to today, thirty-seven years post-Roe; my generation is facing the most egregious attack on our reproductive rights of our lifetime. As our federal government debates different proposals to reform health care, abortion access has become the political football.

In the Senate, the “Nelson abortion check provision” would create an unworkable system that burdens individuals and private insurance providers. Under the Nelson provision, individuals who choose a health plan that includes abortion will be required to write two separate checks—one for abortion care and one for everything else.

The House bill is no better. The Stupak amendment to the House bill would ban abortion coverage altogether in the new health care exchange, though it would allow insurance companies to offer a so-called “abortion rider.”

According to recent studies at George Washington University on the impact of the Nelson provision and Stupak amendment, it is highly likely insurers will forgo covering abortion rather than adhere to cumbersome new administrative requirements.

Even if insurers offered separate abortion coverage, women simply would not purchase it. Why? Women do not plan to have an unplanned pregnancy, nor for unexpected medical complications resulting in termination of a wanted pregnancy.

The bottom line is that the Nelson provision and Stupak amendment are not about restricting federal funds from being used for abortion, as anti-choice proponents suggest. The restriction of federal funds for abortion has been law since the passage of the Hyde Amendment in 1976. The Nelson provision and Stupak amendment are thinly cloaked attempts to strip women of abortion access and to stigmatize abortion in health care.

If new language that restricts abortion coverage is passed, women that already pay for private insurance that covers abortion will lose coverage. Women that lose coverage for abortion will have to make hard decisions when faced with an unintended pregnancy. Post-Roe women, like me, can never truly conceive of what happens when access to abortion is denied.

Before Roe, abortions were not legal, but women had them anyway. Wealthier women were able to pay for safer illegal abortions from a doctor. Other women were forced to have back alley abortions, which often caused injury and even death resulting from lack of medical skill and proper sanitation. Some women tried to perform abortions on themselves using coat hangers, knitting needles, chemicals, and other horrifying methods. Thousands of women died.

If health reform includes restriction on abortion coverage, wealthier women will still be able to pay for safe and legal abortion, even if their insurance will not. But what about the rest of us? What about my friends that are recent college grads or single parents with limited income? What about the majority of Americans who, like me, are working full-time and still living paycheck to paycheck? What about those who do not have steady income or have recently become unemployed?

As the health care reform debate presses on, those who want to deny access to comprehensive reproductive health will continue to use women’s health as a barrier to passing health care reform. As we reflect on 37 years of safe and legal abortion, we need the leadership of pro-choice champions in the House and Senate (like Congresswoman Louise Slaughter in Rochester and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer in NYS) to guarantee that health care reform doesn’t leave women worse off than they are today.

This could be the biggest setback of my generation's lifetime. We must act to defeat abortion restrictions in health car ereform! Send a message to your representatives today and educate your friends and family about Stupak and Nelson using the Activist Toolkit.

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