October 3, 2011 — Many involved in the abortion-rights debate feel that the battle over the federal health reform law "quietly transformed" the Hyde Amendment -- a 35-year-old restriction barring federal funding for abortion services -- into the "new status quo," the Washington Post's "Wonkblog" reports. The Hyde Amendment prohibits Medicaid and other federal health insurance programs from covering abortion services except in a few narrow circumstances -- generally, cases of rape, incest, or to preserve a woman's life or health.
During the health reform debate, when insurance coverage of abortion care became a major sticking point, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers supported a ban on federal funding for abortion as the "neutral" approach to resolving the issue, "Wonkblog" notes.
Jessica Arons, director of the women's health and rights program at the Center for American Progress, said, "Unfortunately, this idea that there shouldn't be public insurance coverage for abortion got cemented in the public's mind." She added, "Politicians have gotten used to saying that."
Even some lawmakers who support abortion rights endorsed maintaining the Hyde Amendment approach as a way to ensure passage of the health reform law (PL 111-148). Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said at the time, "[M]y whole thing is that I want to see the status quo preserved, which is the Hyde idea." She added that prohibiting federal funding for abortion services was an "uneasy truce" between abortion-rights supporters and opponents.
Abortion-rights proponents are worried that the health reform debate has set a precedent. Arons said, "What pro-choice advocates have realized since then is we need to focus on health insurance that's inclusive of all reproductive health needs."
Marlene Fried, a professor at Hampshire College who studies and supports the abortion-rights movement, wrote in a recent essay, "The persistence of the Hyde Amendment also created a series of disastrous roadblocks to inclusive reproductive health coverage in other legislation." Fried continued, "Compounding this specific policy loss was the profound ideological loss of normalizing the exclusion of abortion from health insurance."
Fried told "Wonkblog" that she hopes "new champions" of abortion rights will come forward to fight Hyde. To some extent this is already happening, she said, adding, "I'm heartened by what I'm seeing so far" (Kliff, "Wonkblog," Washington Post, 10/2).
Study Finds Many Providers Aren't Reimbursed for Allowed Abortions
Medicaid often does not reimburse providers for abortion services that should be covered under the Hyde Amendment's exemptions, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, NPR's "Shots" reports.
In the study, researchers from Ibis Reproductive Health interviewed 50 abortion providers in 11 states that allow Medicaid to pay for abortion care in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment. They found that 37% of the 1,165 abortions that should have been covered were paid for by Medicaid, but the remaining cases were paid for by the patients, abortion providers or not-for-profit abortion funds (Rovner, "Shots," NPR, 9/30).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership