In Major Step Forward Towards Passage, Senate Reform Bill Protects Healthcare Coverage for Women

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(PRESS RELEASE) Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights applauded Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's healthcare overhaul package released last night. The bill includes language similar to the abortion-neutral language agreed upon before the House of Representatives passed its healthcare legislation compromise earlier this month. The language prohibits federal money from being used to pay for abortion, and requires that there be at least one plan in the Health Exchange that offers abortion coverage and at least one plan that does not. Nancy Northup, president of the Center, issued this statement in response.

"Thanks to Senator Reid, we\'ve cleared an important hurdle in the battle over abortion coverage in the healthcare debate. Over the next few weeks, we plan to keep the pressure on to make sure that members of the Senate stand firm against the inevitable attempts to undermine women's healthcare on the floor of the Senate.

"It is absolutely critical that the compromise language in the Senate bill prevail in any health reform legislation. It ensures that women across the country keep the abortion coverage that already they have. As our television advertisement (at stated, millions of women would lose benefits under the Stupak ban. Such an outcome is both unfair and defies common sense. Abortion is a common experience. It is a constitutionally protected medical procedure that one in three women will have in their lifetime and a majority of private insurers cover it today.

"Women have compromised their needs substantially to pass the bill, and Senator Reid's merged bill contains even more stringent segregation of funds and other requirements to ensure that no federal money will pay for abortion services. Enough is enough, and there can be no further weakening of protections for women and their healthcare needs.

"We call on the Senate to fight for women in this country and reject any attempts to roll back the clock on women's health and rights."

Below is a summary of the bill's provisions concerning abortion services coverage.

Summary of Abortion-Related Provisions in Released Senate Bill

The Senate bill:

  • Largely mirrors the language contained in the version of the bill passed out of the Senate Finance Committee and modeled on the amendment proposed in the House Energy and Commerce Committee by Rep. Lois Capps (D.-Ca.),
  • Contains more stringent segregation and accounting requirements than in Capps in a manner similar to provisions suggested by Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D.-Ind) in negotiations on the House version of the bill,
  • Defines abortion services out of the "essential minimum benefits package" overseen by the Secretary of Health and Human Services,
  • Segregates funding streams for abortion to ensure that no federal funds will be used to pay for abortion coverage or administrative costs,
  • Allows the Secretary of Health and Human Services, acting as a plan administrator with regard to the public option, to permit coverage in the public option, only if no federal funds are used to provide coverage and other funds are segregated,
  • Explicitly states there will be no preemption of state law restrictions on abortion coverage, and
  • Provides even-handed and abortion neutral conscience and anti-discrimination protections for providers based on willingness or unwillingness to provide abortion services.