The Personal Face of Abortion

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

The current squabbling over whether or not abortion would be government funded in some kind of back door fashion accentuates how conflicted we are as a nation regarding the procedure.  When many private plans cover the procedure, I find most unfair to expect somehow that government coverage would not include the same provision in the spirit of strict parity.   If some are holding government to some kind of moral higher standard than the sainted private sector, then I guess I can’t understand why anti-choice legislators are attempting to impose their will upon a supposedly evil, fallen entity whose name is government in ways that they are unwilling to extend to business, whose radiant goodness is known to all.  This discrepancy continues to show how much of a shill certain politicians have become for the rich, the powerful, and the well connected at the expense of sense and even their own stated convictions.  

On that note, a memo released by the Guttmacher Institute recently stated that

[Our] federally supported study, assessing levels of insurance coverage for a wide range of reproductive health services, found that 87% of typical employer-based insurance policies in 2002 covered medically necessary or appropriate abortions…

Importantly, the 87% of plans that covered abortions did not include plans that offered abortion coverage only in very limited circumstances (such as rape and incest, or to protect the woman’s life). Only a very small number of respondents offered such limited coverage, and they were not included in the study’s findings.

The study queried all large insurers (with at least 100,000 enrollees) and a random, nationally representative sample of small insurers.

Today’s Washington Post article explains the reservations some conservative Democrats and all Republicans are having regarding the proposed amendment in the Health Care reform bill that might end up funding abortions.

The abortion dispute centers both on federal subsidies that would be provided for people who cannot afford health-care coverage themselves and the much-debated government insurance alternative, which is included in the House version of the bill but is still being debated in the Senate. Under a 1976 law, federal funds are generally barred from being used for abortions, except in cases of rape or incest or to ensure the life of the mother.

However, using this same criteria, known as fungibility, the virulently Pro-Life Evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family also funds abortion through the health insurance it provides its employees.

But are those pro-life organizations holding themselves to the same strict standard? As it happens, Focus on the Family provides its employees health insurance through Principal, an insurance company that covers “abortion services.”  A Focus spokeswoman confirmed the fact that the organization pays premiums to Principal, but declined to comment on whether that amounts to an indirect funding of abortion.

Even if the specific plan Focus uses for its employees doesn’t include abortion coverage–and I’m assuming it doesn’t–the organization and its employees still pay premiums to a company that funds abortions. If health reform proposals have a fungibility problem, then Focus does as well. And if they don’t think they do have a fungibility problem, then it would be interesting to hear why they think the set-up proposed in health reform legislation is so untenable.

Regarding contraception, which is a different, albeit related matter, only twenty-five states currently mandate employers to cover birth control, usually in the form of oral contraception, yet in every state in the Union, Medicaid grants contraceptive services to low-income and disabled residents living at or near the poverty line.   The reasons for this are many.   In certain states, it’s more difficult to get laws regulating private industry passed.   Additionally, people may not view expanding contraception rights as an especially a pressing issue because most insurance companies do cover contraceptive services.   Like so much about our current and heavily broken system—it’s great if you have coverage, but not so great if you don’t.

A related Guttmacher Study sums up the situation well.

The response of conservative policymakers has been to make new mandates more difficult to enact and to undermine or repeal existing ones. At the state level, they have pushed for laws to require economic studies of any proposed insurance requirements or moratoriums on new requirements altogether. Moreover, at least 14 states since 2001 have enacted legislation authorizing insurers to offer plans for small employers and individuals that are exempt from some or all benefit mandates, according to AcademyHealth, an association of researchers that works with states to improve health coverage. These “limited-benefit” plans are being promoted explicitly as a money-saving alternative by their proponents

Returning to the original focus of this post, abortion foes often phrase their arguments against the practice in a kind of gasping emotional hyperbole, while abortion supporters, by contrast, often use reason and intellect to push their cause.   Each believes it is resorting to the most effective means of disseminating an argument, but when pitted against each other in this way, true channels of discourse rarely materialize.   The head and the heart rarely speak the same language.   Personal anecdote, however, might be a more humanizing and effective method of getting a point across and so it is that I tell mine.   Please pardon my brief note of caution to those who prefer their reality watered down or disguised as entertainment.

One of my sisters became pregnant in her late teens.   Much of the back story and the particulars have never been shared with me and I know it to not be my place to ask, but what I do know about the situation has only strengthened my pro-choice position.   I do know that the biological father was a drug addict and all around unsavory character, one who I never liked for reasons that scarcely need justifying here.  She was in her first semester of college at the time, had been struggling mightily with anxiety and diagnosed depression, and if I had to wager a guess, I assume that in the state she had been in during the time of conception, she probably hadn’t been particularly cautious or even able to utilize birth control successfully.  Thus when she found herself pregnant, she knew immediately she was in serious trouble.  The boyfriend was unwilling to assist her, his family washed its hands of the matter, and she found herself completely alone.  Though this might be her unique story, I doubt she stakes sole claim to it.

Had she not been so ill already and had the shock of discovering she was pregnant not added to the burden, I have no doubt she would have paid for the procedure herself and had the matter quietly dealt with, to be rarely mentioned ever again.   I do know that keeping the child was never seriously considered, since her intention was to return to college, obtain a degree, and start a career, goals made much more challenging as a mother with a small child in need of constant care.   As it was, in her situation, she had no other option but to tell my parents and rely on their love and support.   To their credit, they were supportive, set up the appointment, arranged for the procedure, that was, as I understand, largely paid for by their insurance carrier, and that was that.   Since then, like in so many other situations in so many other families, what transpired has been relegated to extreme secret and if I hear it mentioned or invoked more than once or twice for the rest of my life I will be very surprised.

While I do not ever wish to see the day where abortion is treated so cavalierly that it resembles going to the dentist to treat a toothache, I nonetheless also know that the massive stigma surrounding it, one based on shame and fear, one that women are never really given the opportunity to combat is much more destructive.   I am of the safe, legal, and rare persuasion regarding abortion rights and even though I do not believe it should ever be used as birth control, I do believe that it serves a purpose and provides a needed function in our society.   I know also that we can talk about it in the abstract of satisfying statistics and resolute conclusions or screech about killing babies from now until eternity and never make any progress.   In my own life, I have known good Christian conservatives who have talked up their pro-life cred while somehow never mentioning that unfortunate incident whereby their own daughters, sisters, wives, or female relatives ended up in a situation where keeping the child was not an option and no other choice feasibly existed.  If we could share stories and in so doing reveal our humanity, even if it left us vulnerable, then that would go a long way towards lessening the hatred and in the process bringing us together.   I acknowledge this to be a tall order in the best of circumstances and I believe in no moment of Utopia or Kumbaya, but unless we make an effort to find the point at which ideology is less important than personal experience, we should expect trench warfare and a frustrating pattern of one step forward and one step back for a long time to come.          


  1. There is no reason that can’t be the case. If folks would get over their moralisticalistic views of sex and sexuality and actually teach safe sex to preteens and teens, that is. That and easily obtainable free birth control for everyone who wants it.

    As for this:

    “I do not ever wish to see the day where abortion is treated so cavalierly that it resembles going to the dentist to treat a toothache”

    I have never met a woman who was that cold-blooded, but if I did, I would want her to have an abortion immediately rather than unleash her spawn on the world. Sociopathy can be genetically transmitted.

  2. is tragic……

    choice is freedom……

    no choice no freedom…..

    religous beliefs around reproductive issues have been the primary method of enforcing the position of women as chatel for thousands of years……

    without choice half of the human race is womb slave for the other half…..

    slavery is slavery and this was the first form of it….

  3. to decide what gets injected into your own body.

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