December 08, 2009

FLOOR STATEMENT BY U.S. SENATOR BENJAMIN L. CARDIN IN OPPOSITION TO THE NELSON-HATCH AMENDMENT TO THE PATIENT PROTECTION AND AFFORDABLE CARE ACT

I rise in strong opposition to the Nelson-Hatch amendment. Let me start off by saying that I support a woman's right of choice. It's a constitutionally affirmed right. I understand how difficult and divisive this issue is and that is why the underlying bill that we have before us carries out the compromise that has already been reached between the pro-choice and pro-life supporters. It represents maintaining the federal p rohibition on funds, federal funds for abortion, but allows a woman to pay for abortion coverage with her own funds. That's the current law and this underlying bill makes sure that we continue that policy.

 

Many of us thought that the health care debate is critically important, but, of course, it is controversial. So let's not bring the abortion issue into the bill. The Nelson-Hatch amendment would go beyond that. It would restrict a woman's ability to use her own funds for coverage to pay for a bortions. It blocks women from using their personal funds to purchase insurance plans with abortion coverage. If enacted, for the first time in federal law, this amendment would restrict what individual private dollars can pay for in the private insurance marketplace.

 

I want to point out that when you look at those who are supporting this amendment, you can't help but have some concern that it is being offered as a way to derail and defeat the health care reform bill.   M ost of the people who are going to be supporting this amendment will vote in opposition to the overall bill. It's quite clear that the Senate health reform bill already includes the language banning the federal funds for abortion services, but the supporters of this bill are not satisfied with the current funding ban. They're trying to use this to move the equation further in an effort to defeat health reform.

 

This amendment also is very wrong policy as it relates to women in America. I am outraged at the suggestion that women who want an abortion would need to purchase a separate rider to cover them. Why would we expect this overwhelmingly male Senate to expect women to shop for a supplemental plan in anticipation of an unintended pregnancy or a pregnancy with health complications? Who plans for such an event? The whole point of health insurance is to protect against the u nexpected.

 

Currently there are five states -- Idaho, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Missouri, and North Dakota -- that only allow abortion coverage through riders. Guess what? The individual market does not accept this type of a policy.   It doesn't exist.

 

Abortion riders also severely undermine patient privacy.   That's because women would be placed in the position of having to tell their employer or their insurer -- and in many cases their husband's employer -- that they anticipate terminating a pregnancy.

 

Requiring women to spend additional money to h ave comprehensive health care coverage is discriminatory. We don't do that for services that affect men's reproductive rights.

 

The last point I would mention is something that I hear frequently.  Those who support the underlying bill repeatedly say that it allows individuals who currently have insurance to maintain their current insurance.   We build on what's good in our health care system. Well, this amendment takes away rights that people already have. If you have insurance today as an individual that c overs abortion services, if this amendment were adopted, you would not   be able to get that anymore. We would be denying people the ability to maintain their own current insurance if this amendment were adopted.

 

This is a wrong amendment. The policy is wrong, but clearly -- on this bill -- it's wrong. I  urge my colleagues to accept the compromise that was reached on this bill.

 

Many of us who would like to be more progressive in dealing with this issue and want to remove some of the discriminatory provisions that are in existing law, understand that we'll have to wait for another day.  

 

Let's not confuse the issue of health care reform. Let's defeat this amendment that would be discriminatory against women. It's wrong. I urge my colleagues to reject the Nelson-Hatch amendment.