Congresswoman: Health Care Bill Abortion Amendment Is Unacceptable

Rep. Diana Degette, a Democrat from Colorado and co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, is speaking out against an amendment to sweeping health care legislation that prevents federal funding for abortions in any public insurance plan. Degette explains why she thinks the stipulation is unacceptable and should not be included as a condition of the push to overhaul the nation’s health care system.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

MARTIN: Now we go to Congresswoman Diana DeGette. She represents the 1st District of Colorado in the Congress. She is a Democrat. Shes co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus. Shes authored a letter that has been co-signed by more than 40 of her colleagues saying they will not support a final bill that includes the Stupak Amendment, and she joins us now by phone from her district. Welcome, thank you for joining us.

Representative DIANA DEGETTE (Democrat, Colorado): Good to be with you.

MARTIN: Congresswoman, can I ask you the same question I asked Julie? The supporters of the Stupak Amendment say that this just extends existing federal policy and you say it goes further than that.

Rep. DEGETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Why do you have to say it goes further than that?

Rep. DEGETTE: I really have to disagree with Julie in the scope of what the Stupak Amendment is because I know Congressman Stupak has been saying all this does is apply the Hyde Amendment, but in fact it goes much, much further. What the Hyde Amendment says is, as you said, no federal funds shall be used to pay for abortions.

That has been in the law for many years and its well-established. The Pro-Choice Caucus doesnt really like it but we accept it, you know, its where were at. And, in fact, in my committee, the Energy and Commerce Committee, we put language into the bill which was in the bill when it came to the floor which preserved the Hyde Amendment.

What the Stupak Amendment says is nobody in the exchange or in the public option can purchase an insurance plan that covers a full range of reproductive services, even with their own money. So, for example, the public option, now its set up by the government, but its not paid for by government funds. A middle class businesswoman from Denver, for example, whos having trouble getting insurance now because she has a small business might want to buy a plan with her own money, 100 percent her own money. In this public option, she would not be able to get a full range of reproductive care.

MARTIN: Well, there are those who say that these companies could offer a separate rider.

Rep. DEGETTE: Well, I think I think the idea

MARTIN: In the same way, for example, and not to trivialize the matter at all, but in the same way getting your home insurance, for example, you can buy a separate rider for valuable items, like, you know, a wedding ring, or something of that sort

Rep. DEGETTE: Well

MARTIN: that isnt included in the core plan, theyre saying its the same thing.

Rep. DEGETTE: You know, that does trivialize it, because in fact, its an unplanned pregnancy or a planned pregnancy that goes terribly wrong is never in anybodys planning. If you have a wedding ring, you know, it might get stolen, you put a rider on your home owners policy. But, for example

MARTIN: But why, please forgive me, why couldnt someone read or anticipate people may or may not choose long-term care insurance. They may or may not choose other forms of insurance that are riders. Are you saying that these companies would not offer these riders, or are you saying that people would not buy them?

Rep. DEGETTE: Im saying, women would never buy them because they wouldnt think that they would have an unplanned pregnancy. Its just like saying you have to get a rider to buy cancer coverage or something like that. People dont plan on getting that. And we actually think, the Pro-Choice Caucus thinks that we can have a resolution here. Were trying to be reasonable. What we are saying is, we will agree to compromise to have the Hyde amendment. But dont do an amendment that goes far beyond that and then say thats just the Hyde amendment. And so, were still talking to people, were still working with them on language.

You know, something else, people say, well, in the exchange, if people get premium assistance then they cant buy a plan with abortion coverage. But its the same thing. Lets say you have $100 a month youre paying for your premium and $10 is a subsidy and $90 is your own money. We say, you should be able to take your own money and apply that to a full policy. Theres nothing in current law that prevents people from, with their own money, buying insurance.

MARTIN: And youre saying this amendment would, in your view

Rep. DEGETTE: Absolutely.

MARTIN: allow people from - with their own - and finally, throughout the health care debate, as we have talked with law makers across the political spectrum, we have asked them, what is your bottom line? We asked, for example, House Majority Whip James Clyburn this question at the beginning of the week and he said while he does not like this amendment, that he feels that the overriding goal of extending health care coverage to people who dont presently have it has to be the objective. And he would reluctantly vote for final passage, even if this amendment is included. What about you?

Rep. DEGETTE: Well, I circulated a letter and 41 people have signed it saying, this is too high a price to pay. If by some remote possibility the bill came back with this exact language in it, we would say, take the bill off the table and go work on it.

Now having said that, I think we can come up with a compromise. In my committee, the Energy and Commerce Committee, we were able to come up with some compromise language that preserved the separation of federal funds in this legislation. And its called the Caps Amendment. And if people think that we can improve on that, if we can make it more clear that were not going to spend federal money for abortions, were happy to work with them on that and we think we can. Ive already talked to several senators this week who are working on it.

But this particular amendment, it goes way farther than that. Thats what people need to understand. Were not trying to be unreasonable. Weve compromised to keep the Hyde Amendment. This Stupak Amendment will prevent millions of women from getting legal medical services. And thats our concern.

MARTIN: And Congresswomen, finally, if I could just press you one more time on this whole question of the rider. Youre saying that people wont buy these riders if offered. People do buy riders for health care issues all the time. I mean, people now who buy individual policies on the open market can choose or choose not to buy coverage for maternity services, thinking they may or may not get pregnant. So why is this different?

Rep. DEGETTE: Let me try it again. Unlike maternity services, where you think, you know, I really might want to get pregnant and have a baby, people dont plan for an unwanted pregnancy. They dont plan to get pregnant when they didnt want to or to have a planned pregnancy that goes terribly wrong. And so, theyre not going to think I better pay extra money every month in case this unplanned situation happens. And thats the problem with a rider.

MARTIN: And could I just

Rep. DEGETTE: Also, why should you have to do that with this one - you know, an abortion is a legal medical procedure just like many other medical procedures. Why should you just single this one procedure out?

MARTIN: Congresswoman Diana DeGette of Colorado. Shes co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus. She was kind enough to join us today by phone from her district. Congresswoman, we thank you so much for speaking with us.

Rep. DEGETTE: Thank you so much.

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