Healthcare Reforms Must Include Abortion Care To Be Called 'Universal'

Leaving women's medical coverage in limbo or up to the Colorado Supreme Court is not a viable option.
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NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado's mission is to protect abortion access and to oppose any and all attempts to limit it. In Colorado there is a 2016 ballot measure, Amendment 69, that has the good intention of universal healthcare, but a serious policy flaw that it cannot fund abortion care as written. While Amendment 69 does not outlaw abortion, it places a financial burden on women currently covered for abortion care under private insurance; coverage lost if this measure were to pass.

It is our basic guiding principle that abortion is a central component of reproductive health care and this is why NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado opposes Amendment 69, also known as ColoradoCare.

Why would Amendment 69 restrict access to abortion care? Because in 1984, Colorado voters passed a constitutional ballot measure that explicitly bans any public funds to be used for abortion care. NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado has outlined the issues with the Colorado Constitution's Article V, section 50 in our press statements.

ColoradoCare would be established as a "political subdivision" of the state, therefore prohibited from providing coverage for any abortion services to women except when continuing the pregnancy would endanger the life of the pregnant woman.

There is a lot of misinformation around abortion care, so let's be clear. About 89 percent of all abortions in the US occur in the first trimester, but women who find they are unable to carry a pregnancy to term may need to access care beyond the first trimester. Those procedures, while relatively rare, are also very costly. Insurance currently covers most of these procedures in our state, but would NOT be able to if ColoradoCare was implemented in state law as drafted. More than 550,000 women of childbearing age in Colorado - who, today, have insurance coverage for abortion services as part of their contracted benefits, will lose access to abortion coverage benefits if Amendment 69 passes.

It has been suggested that if voters approve this ballot measure in 2016 that it would overturn the current funding restriction. We believe that is false. A more recent ballot initiative that is constitutional does not automatically repeal something currently in our constitution unless it is specified. Amendment 69 is general, and not only lacks specific protections for abortion care, but is silent on the issue.

One of the more disturbing arguments we've heard is that abortion rights proponents should remain neutral despite these serious policy concerns, and work it out later. This amounts to nothing more than asking women to "wait our turn" while more important issues are considered. Comparing the relative importance of one health care issue over another is bad policy and bad politics. Women - and women's health care - have been asked to take the back seat, and our answer is NO.

Leaving women's medical coverage in limbo or up to the Colorado Supreme Court is not a viable option. In a legal environment where abortion rights have been limited by legal action in many states, it is a great risk to expect women to put aside a central component of our healthcare and equality. In a state where we have protections in the current health care system,. It is unacceptable to risk the loss of coverage for so many women, and outrageous to expect an abortion rights organization to be quiet.

We've heard from detractors that because Amendment 69 will guarantee access to birth control and because abortion is "elective" that our concerns are unfounded. That doesn't cut it, and it misses the point entirely - abortion care should not and cannot, be separated from comprehensive health care for Colorado women.

Experts agree: according to the American Congress of Obstetrician Gynecologists, "Safe, legal abortion is a necessary component of women's health care." Amendment 69 does not include it. It cannot add it, hope for it or make us wait to fix it later.

Here is an example of the kind of feedback we have been getting:

"If NARAL really cared about Colorado women's access to abortion, it would be campaigning for the repeal of Amendment 3 the Ban on Public Funding of Abortion Act, not opposing Amendment 69. Amendment 69 also known as Colorado Care would provide more access to prenatal care and gynecological services which in turn would reduce the necessity for abortions."

The reality of abortion care is that 46 percent of pregnancies in Colorado are unintended, so all the prenatal health care in the world won't eliminate the need to provide abortion care, even in the very best of circumstances.

If this writer had more knowledge about the ballot initiative process in Colorado, they would know that a successful "Yes" ballot campaign could cost upwards of $10 million, and take several years to plan. NARAL, in coalition and at great expense, successfully defeated personhood ballot measures in 2008, 2010 and 2014, so we have some experience in this area. Sometimes, policy and electoral processes aren't as clear cut as simply supporting an ideological idea. NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado firmly believe this funding ban must be overturned, but it will not be in time to work cooperatively with Amendment 69.

While we strongly support the goal of improved healthcare for all Coloradans, and many of our members individually support the idea of universal health care, Amendment 69 not providing guarantees to affordable abortion access means it is not truly universal.

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