No Abortion Ban: Nancy Northup Statement


Primary Content

Health Care Reform Cannot Roll Back the Clock on Women’s Healthcare Needs

Statement of Nancy Northup, President, Center for Reproductive Rights

No Abortion Ban Campaign Launch, Washington, DC, 11.16.09


Welcome. As the Senate begins debate on healthcare reform, which could happen as early as this week, we are launching the first paid advertising campaign to hit the airwaves since House passage of the full bill containing the Stupak-Pitts abortion coverage ban.

The promise of health care reform is expanded coverage and affordability, elimination of denials of coverage for pre-existing conditions, and a new basic package of essential benefits. Yet some in Congress are attempting to use the reform bill as a vehicle for banning insurance coverage for abortion services, coverage that millions of women have today. But healthcare reform is not an abortion bill. This attempt to roll back the clock on women’s health and rights cannot be tolerated.

Three key facts:

  • A majority of private health insurance plans now provide coverage for abortion services.
  • One in 3 women will have an abortion within her lifetime.
  • Abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures.

Under the Stupak-Pitts abortion ban, women would not be covered for abortions in the new health insurance market despite spending their own money to pay premiums. And women who opt into the more affordable public option would be banned from getting coverage for abortion services, even if their own money is used to buy their insurance coverage. With Stupak-Pitts, it would be far harder, and perhaps impossible given market incentives, for private insurance companies to offer abortion coverage for plans under health reform. During the House debate, there were misleading assertions about what the amendment would do and about how it interacts with current law. The anti-choice lobby has also compared the amendment to the current restrictions in the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program (or FEHBP). We are here to set the record straight.

First, the limits on benefits in the FEHBP program, as you will hear from D.J. in a minute, are punishing to women and deeply unfair. We should be debating instead how to eliminate the current federal funding bans, as they punish poor women and others – including women in the military, Native Americans and federal employees – who are seeking to make their own choices concerning their health care needs.

Second, the ban on abortion coverage represents an enormous and unprecedented incursion into the terms of the private insurance market, as we show in the fact sheets we have with us today and posted on our Web site. For the first time, Congress now wants to go beyond imposing restrictions on its employees and those completely dependent on the government to pay for their health care. What’s new here is that Stupak-Pitts would regulate abortion coverage for people working for private employers, or those who are self-employed. This massive and unwarranted expansion of abortion restriction for the privately employed, and would affect millions of women and families nationally. It would also violate President Obama’s promise that those participating in the reform will get to keep the insurance coverage they have, as he said last week.

Third, the provision allowing riders is a smoke-and-mirrors trick and little else. As we’ve heard from experts this week and shown in our research, rider requirements are the equivalent of an outright ban. In states that have such rules, riders are not actually made available for purchase, nor are women aware of them or of their lack of coverage. It is illogical to require women to purchase coverage for a service most of them do not anticipate needing. They also do not anticipate a health-threatening or medically complicated pregnancy for which a termination can cost thousands of dollars, which D.J. will talk about in a minute. Furthermore, it is contrary to the entire purpose of insurance, which is supposed to be there to pay for the unexpected.

The point of our campaign is simple: when you need medical care, your insurance should pay for it. We think this simple principle should apply equally to the needs of women, and to abortion services, which are a fundamental part of women’s reproductive health. Moreover, the access to abortion services is a constitutionally protected right, yet it means little if women who need insurance coverage cannot pay for services when they need them.

Health reform is supposed to provide affordable insurance coverage to all Americans, yet millions of women stand to lose benefits that they already have. Our elected officials must take this moment to stand up and protect women’s health care coverage. Anything less is unacceptable.

I’ll now say a few words about the campaign. The television advertisement we will see in a minute will begin running this week on cable and is being promoted by paid advertising on on-line media sites. We also have set up an issue campaign Web site at and we are urging our activists and allies to take action and contact their members of Congress by email, phone and in person over the Thanksgiving holiday. We are promoting the campaign on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Next, we will hear from D.J., and then show the clip, after which we will take questions.

D.J. called the Center for Reproductive Rights hotline to share her story earlier this year, and she has been courageous in allowing us to work together to highlight the issue of how painful these kinds of restrictions are for women who have already dealt with trying circumstances. We deeply appreciate her outspoken leadership and willingness to talk publicly about such a private and personal matter.