Abortion hijacks the US healthcare debate

Battle over amendment that may prevent women paying for terminations

The always-delicate political truce in the United States on abortion rights has been plunged into unexpected jeopardy thanks to an amendment inserted at the eleventh hour in the healthcare reform legislation approved by the House of Representatives.

Tensions that have lurked below the surface of the healthcare debate exploded into the open when more than 60 Democrats in the House approved the amendment adding new restrictions on access to abortion for women. The manoeuvre helped ensure the passage of the legislation in the House last Saturday. The US Senate is scheduled to begin debating its version of reform early next week.

President Barack Obama and other Democratic Party leaders have strived for months to keep the lid on debate about abortion, which in America becomes very emotional very fast. The President expressed anxiety that fresh political warfare on the issue could derail the wider reform effort. "This is a health care bill, not an abortion bill," he insisted during an interview with ABC News.

While the US Supreme Court returned to women the right to seek an abortion in the landmark 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling, Congress subsequently instituted a rule barring the use of federal funds for abortions. But access to abortion, particularly for poorer women, would be narrowed further under the amendment introduced to the legislation by Congressman Bart Stupak last weekend.

The Stupak amendment aims indeed to ensure that abortions will not be available under the new system to women with health coverage subsidised by Government dollars. Additionally, however, it bars insurers from including abortions in their coverage plans if they participate in proposed health insurance exchanges designed to make it easier for lower-income people and small business owners to get insurance.

It didn't take long for defenders of abortion rights to understand that this represents a change of the rules for women because the effect of the amendment would be to make it impossible for some women to obtain coverage for abortions even when they are ready to pay for it with their own money.

"There's going to be a firestorm," warned Diana DeGette, a Democrat who opposed the amendment. "Women are going to realise that a Democratic-controlled House has passed legislation that would prohibit women paying for abortions with their own funds... we're not going to let this into law."

Nancy Keenan, the President of NARAL-Pro Choice America, condemned the vote as "extremely disappointing and outrageous" and vowed that the "fight isn't over yet". Pro-choice forces are in fact galvanising themselves for action as the focus switches to the US Senate. Now that the abortion debate has gone from a simmer to a spitting boil, it is hard to see who could cool it back down again, however.

"I said all along that the inclusion of abortion as healthcare was going to be a political conflagration," noted Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United For Life Action, who hailed the amendment's passage.

But Senator Barbara Boxer of California is among those now determined to have it erased before a final law reaches the desk of Mr Obama, something that supporters hope will happen by Christmas.

"This amendment is unfair and discriminatory toward women," she declared. "We've had a compromise in place for decades that has been fair. Anything that disrupts that compromise is a huge step back for women."

In practice, few women in the US who obtain abortions claim back the costs for them even if they have coverage, usually for reasons of privacy. But such is the determination of both sides in the debate to hold their respective ground that any tweaks to the law will always trigger a fresh outbreak of warfare. And once hostilities begin, finding the terms of a new truce is always hard.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Alexis Sanchez, Alan Pardew and Graziano Pelle
footballAfter QPR draw, follow Villa vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Hull and Swansea vs Southampton
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam