Misleading Attacks on Women's Health

It was only a matter of time before the right-wing campaign against health care reform began to focus on abortion, and last week the Family Research Council pulled out all the stops. The FRC is up with an "Harry and Louise" lookalike ad in key Senate states alleging that health care reform won't cover surgery for seniors (really??) but will pay for abortions provided by Planned Parenthood. News to us all -- but again, the Family Research Council has never been known to let the facts get in the way of good, old-fashioned hysteria.

The truth is that the Family Research Council and the National Right to Life folks don't want health care reform of any kind, and are now using the idea of expanding access to reproductive health care as their latest target. These are the same folks who come from the Grover Norquist "get [the government] down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub" school, which opposes any program that would help American families -- from school lunch programs to expanding health care access for kids.

The simple fact is that most women with private insurance in America already have access to full reproductive health care, and the vast majority of employment-based health plans treat abortion coverage like the rest of health care -- as a covered benefit. Understandably, the vast majority of Americans believe that women shouldn't be worse off as a result of health care reform. In fact, a recent poll conducted by the Mellman Group on behalf of the National Women's Law Center found that American voters would oppose a plan that does not include access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion care -- because voters want health care decisions to be made by medical experts, not by members of Congress, and certainly not by the Family Research Council.

Women in America have the most to gain and also the most to lose from health care reform. After all, women are the largest providers of health care, users of health care, and purchasers of health care, and women make the majority of the health care decisions for their families. Public opinion research has shown repeatedly that a major concern of women voters is that they could be left worse off after health care reform, by losing access to either care or to their provider of choice. That's pretty much the goal of the Family Research Council and other anti-choice leaders.

Abortion should be treated like every other issue -- in other words, insurance companies operating in the proposed health care Exchange should be neither mandated to cover abortion nor prohibited -- let the free market allow companies to determine their benefit package, rather than politicize heath care.

But, as usual, the far right wants government out of our lives except when they don't -- and when it comes to women and their families having the right to make their own health care decisions, with their doctors, or their insurance companies, the Family Research Council would rather be the deciders. Women's health care has always been a favorite target, and these days are no exception. In fact, many on the right don't want women to even have access to birth control.

So here are some basic facts to know as the health care debates and misinformation campaigns heat up:

1. Myth: Taxpayer money would be used to pay for abortions in the public plan.

Reality: Opponents of reproductive health care are trying to make you think that the public plan is a government-funded health plan like Medicaid or Medicare -- it is not. The public health insurance plan in the Exchange would operate like any private insurance plan would. Therefore, there is no reason to treat any coverage issue, including abortion coverage, differently in the public health insurance plan than in private plans in the Exchange.

2. Myth: Health care reform would result in the greatest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade.

Reality: Currently, the majority of plans already cover basic reproductive health care, including abortion care. A Guttmacher Institute survey found that 86.5 percent of employment-based health plans cover medication abortion, and 86.9 percent of employment-based health plans cover in-clinic abortion. The Kaiser Family Foundation's 2003 Employer Health Benefits Survey found that 46 percent of workers have coverage for abortion services. And when looking at larger firms, the rate is more than 50 percent.

3. Myth: Health care reform would mandate that virtually every American be forced into a health plan that includes abortion coverage.

Reality: Nothing in any of the current health care reform bills mandates abortion coverage -- or any other type of medical procedure -- in the Exchange.

4. Myth: Abortion coverage is mandated in health reform bills unless explicitly restricted.

Reality: Nothing in any of the current health care reform bills mandates abortion coverage -- or any other type of health care service -- in the Exchange. Opponents of women's health and health care reform are exploiting this legislation as a way to push for unprecedented prohibitions on abortion coverage in the private marketplace.

Health care reform is an important goal -- but not at the expense of women's health. As the leading provider of contraception and reproductive health care in America, Planned Parenthood will continue to stand up for the health of women and their families. You can do your part -- go to www.plannedparenthood.org and tell your member of Congress to ensure that women have access to affordable care by a provider they trust. And stay tuned -- the campaign against women's health has only just begun.