Reducing abortions by expanding health coverage

Last week, Colorado Republicans opposed a bill that would expand health coverage for maternity and contraception partly on the grounds that some contraception terminates pregnancies rather than preventing them. As the Colorado Independent reported, the Republican lawmakers were missing the forest for the trees. Women on the individual insurance market here are more likely to get abortions because abortions are covered. Women are forced however to pay prenatal and contraception costs out of pocket.

The national argument on health reform follows along the exact same lines.

Pro-life state Sen. Kevin Lundberg
Pro-life state Sen. Kevin Lundberg

Among the myriad criticisms that opponents of the Democrats’ health reform bills have leveled at the legislation, perhaps none resonates as strongly as the emotionally charged claims about how the proposals approach abortion coverage. For almost 35 years, federal law has prohibited the federal funding of abortions, and the critics of this year’s reform proposals contend that the Senate bill would loosen that decades-old restriction.

Never mind, for a moment, that the Senate bill would force women to write separate premium checks each month — one for abortion coverage and one for all other health care services — and that insurers would be required to segregate those funds to ensure that no federal subsidies dribbled into the abortion pot. One longtime health care reporter yesterday pointed out another reason that the critics have missed the mark by citing abortion as the reason to oppose health reform: Expanded coverage reduces abortion rates.

“Increasing health-care coverage is one of the most powerful tools for reducing the number of abortions — a fact proved by years of experience in other industrialized nations,” T.R. Reid, veteran reporter for The Washington Post and author of The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care, wrote in the Post Sunday.

“All the other advanced, free-market democracies provide health-care coverage for everybody. And all of them have lower rates of abortion than does the United States. This is not a coincidence.”

Reid cites figures compiled by the United Nations to make his point. In places where the government has steped in to guarantee coverage for everyone, abortion rates are much lower than those in the United States.

Canada, for example, has 15.2 abortions per 1,000 women; Denmark, 14.3; Germany, 7.8; Japan, 12.3; Britain, 17.0; and the United States, 20.8.

“When it comes to abortion rates in the developed world,” Reid notes dryly, “we’re No. 1.”

To understand why, look no further than the explanation provided to Reid by the late Cardinal Basil Hume, a senior official of England’s Catholic Church during Reid’s tenure in London some time back.

“If that frightened, unemployed 19-year-old knows that she and her child will have access to medical care whenever it’s needed,” Hume explained, “she’s more likely to carry the baby to term. Isn’t it obvious?”

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who previously represented Illinois in the House for 14 years, also recently blasted the anti-abortion crowd for citing the hot-button issue as a reason to oppose health reform. Writing in the Chicago Tribune Sunday, LaHood said he feels “compelled to remind my former colleagues that contrary to what many people have been saying, the bill explicitly prevents federal dollars from being used to fund abortion.”

It ensures not only that those seeking abortion coverage will be required to pay for it with their own money, but also that their personal money will never be commingled with federal funds. As a former congressman with a 100 percent pro-life voting record, I’m comfortable supporting this bill.

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