Advocates React to Abortion-Coverage Restrictions in High-Risk Pools

Published Monday, July 19, 2010 7:00 am

Abortion-rights advocates are criticizing an Obama administration decision to prohibit most abortion coverage in the state-run, high-risk insurance pools set up under the federal health reform law (PL 111-148), the AP/Miami Herald reports. The pools will provide insurance to individuals who are unable to obtain it because of pre-existing conditions.
The health reform law did not spell out how to address abortion in Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plans. Antiabortion-rights groups voiced concern when two states -- New Mexico and Pennsylvania -- initially allowed abortion coverage in their pools. In response, HHS announced last week that PCIPs can cover abortion only in cases currently covered under federal law -- rape, incest or to save the life of the woman.

Abortion-rights advocates say HHS' decision goes too far in restricting access to abortion coverage. Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, "We didn't expect that women would be treated differently here with regard to the high-risk insurance pool." She added, "This is inexplicable and wrongheaded to us, and it puts women's live in jeopardy."

Abortion-rights opponents contend that the policy is consistent with an executive order President Obama signed as part of a deal with antiabortion-House Democrats to get them to vote for the reform law. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who led the antiabortion Democrats during debate, said the administration has "made it very clear abortions are not going to be covered." Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.) said, "This is the first test, and it will show that there is no federal funding going to pay for abortion."

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the group "welcome[s] this new policy," although the bishops remain skeptical of other abortion-related provisions in the health reform law. According to the AP/Herald, the HHS policy on PCIPs is "more restrictive" than the one that will be generally applied under the new health reform law, which will allow insurance plans that accept federal subsidies to cover abortion services if policyholders pay for the coverage separately. In addition, the private money for the abortion coverage must be segregated from government money (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Miami Herald, 7/19).