Abortion in Health Care Reform: The Fight is Far From Over

How quickly joy can turn to outrage.

Women had a lot to cheer about Saturday night when the House passed the historic Affordable Health Care Act. Among other major strides in health-insurance reform, it would eliminate "gender rating" in insurance pricing and unequal taxation of domestic partner benefits, ban discrimination based on preexisting conditions and stop the practice of dropping or capping coverage for sick people.

But our celebration was quickly dampened by an ugly amendment to the bill. The so-called Stupak amendment, named for one of its cosponsors, Bart Stupak (D-Mic.), bans abortion coverage not only in the public health-insurance option but in private plans participating in a new national health-insurance exchange.

This is an outrageous denial of choice to women, dictated behind the scenes by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and their army of lobbyists. Millions of poor and middle-class women would be denied abortion coverage and millions more would lose the coverage they already have, since 85 percent of private plans now cover abortion. Far from being abortion-neutral, the Stupak amendment is a giant step backward for women. It's unacceptable. In the compromise to get the bill passed, women and their health-care rights were thrown under the bus.

Fortunately, the fight is far from over. Many pro-choice legislators and groups are now determined to strip the amendment from the bill before it is finally approved by Congress and signed by the president. As the legislation proceeds to the Senate and then to a House/Senate conference committee to iron out differences, pressure will be stepped up. There are many more pro-choice than anti-abortion Democrats; the question Democrats must now answer is if they're more willing to dance to the tune of the Catholic bishops or instead listen to their overwhelming constituency of pro-choice women.

We must stop federal legislation from being used as a vehicle to cut back reproductive rights. Young women's lives cannot continue to be a political football. We must free this historic Act of abortion politics--and then we can begin to celebrate anew.