Health care and abortion: an unfortunate reality

| Staff Columnist

On Monday, the United States House of Representatives passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962) with a vote of 220-215, all members present and voting. The bill was introduced in late October, as an outgrowth of America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 (H.R. 3200). Sponsored by John Dingell of Michigan, the current Dean of the House, the aptly-named bill is intended to enact health care reform through a number of avenues. To name a few, it will prevent private insurers from raising rates on certain high-risk individuals, expand Medicaid, provide a government-sponsored insurance plan, and most worryingly, increase restrictions on abortions.

The bill’s one major deficit, the reduction of abortion rights, is indicative of a nationwide trend. Lately—at least among young people—opposition to gay marriage has gradually been declining while resistance to abortion has been climbing. In the bill, coverage of abortions by government-funded plans has been significantly restricted. Medicare and the government-sponsored plan are already prohibited from paying for any abortion—a concession made to anti-abortion Democrats, who threatened to abandon the bill otherwise. This addition is worrisome, as it makes significant inroads to further restricting abortion. A continuation of this trend would infringe upon, among other things, a woman’s right to control her own body.

Aside from the abortion restriction, the bill is highly commendable. It is an important step along the way to universal health care. It will provide coverage for the 36 million Americans currently lacking insurance, partly by expanding Medicaid, the United States health insurance for low-income individuals and families. By extending this coverage, the bill ensures that many families, who—while not living below the technical poverty line—are still unable to afford health care can finally feel at ease regarding their medical situation. It will also prevent the nefarious insurance practice of not paying for pre-existing conditions and letting people go when they become sick. Thousands of Americans have lost insurance because they have an incredibly minor “pre-existing condition” when they get sick, and companies use this as a pretense for refusing to pay for their care. By ending this practice, the bill removes a harmful loophole in the system that has plagued Americans for years.

The way the bill was passed reveals a great deal about support for health care and President Obama within the House of Representatives. Passing 220-215, with only one Republican voting for the bill (Joseph Cao from Louisiana’s 2nd congressional district) and 39 Democrats voting against, the bill shows the fractured nature of the debate. Obama appeared at Capitol Hill on a weekend—a rarity for the president—in order to convince lawmakers to support the bill. He held a private meeting, which many analysts claim may have been the deciding factor in the bill’s passage. The fact that he had to do this, however, reveals the contentious and often partisan nature of opinions on health care reform: even with his efforts, the bill barely passed. This is the unfortunate reality that led to the abortion addenda to the bill.

Though abortion restrictions are not enough to sink the measure, they are nevertheless alarming. Pragmatically, they may be necessary, though—and the benefits of finally legislating universal health care for all Americans may in fact outweigh the costs of succumbing to partisan demands.

Sasha is a freshman in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.