Washington, DC – During the ongoing Senate health care debate, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today spoke out the Senate floor in opposition to an amendment offered by Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), which would represent a major setback for women’s rights. Specifically, the Nelson amendment would prohibit any health insurance plan that accepts a single government subsidy or dollar from providing coverage for any abortion, no matter how necessary that procedure might be for a woman’s health – and even if she pays for coverage herself.
Early this evening, Senator Feinstein joined a majority of the Senate in tabling, or striking down, the Nelson amendment by a vote of 54-45.
Following is the text of Senator Feinstein’s remarks, as delivered:
“Mr. President, I rise to speak on the amendment offered today by Mr. Nelson.
Simply put, I believe this amendment would be a harsh and unnecessary step back in health coverage for American women.
What this amendment would do, as I read it, is to prohibit any health insurance plan that accepts a single government subsidy or dollar from providing coverage for any abortion, no matter how necessary that procedure might be for a woman’s health – and even if she pays for coverage herself.
Now, the proponents of this amendment say that their sole aim is to block government funds from being used to cover abortions – but the underlying bill already does that.
In the bill before us, health plans that opt to cover abortion services – in cases other than rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake – must segregate the premium dollars they receive to ensure that only private dollars and not government money is used.
They argue that segregating funds means nothing – you’ve heard that – and that money is fungible.
However, this method of separating funds for separate uses is used in many other areas. There is ample precedent for this provision.
For example, Charitable Choice programs allow agencies that promote religion to receive federal funds, as long as these funds are segregated from religious activities. We all know that, we see it in program after program.
If these organizations can successfully segregate their sources of funding, surely health insurance plans can do the same.
Additionally, the Secretary of Health and Human Services must also certify that the plan does not use any federal funding for abortion coverage, based on accounting standards created by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
This amendment would place an unprecedented restriction on a woman’s right to use her own money to purchase health care coverage that would cover abortions.
Let me give you one example.
My staff met with a bright, young, married attorney who works for the federal government. She and her husband desperately wanted to start a family, and were overjoyed to learn she was pregnant. Subsequently, she learned that the baby she was carrying had anencephaly, a birth defect whereby the majority of the brain does not develop. She was told the baby could not survive outside of the womb.
She ended the pregnancy, but received a bill nearly $9,000. Because she is employed by the federal government, her insurance policy would not cover the procedure.
Her physician argued that continuing the pregnancy could have resulted in “dysfunctional labor and postpartum hemorrhage, which can increase the risk for the mother.” The physician also warned that the complications could be “life threatening.”
However, the Office of Personnel Management found that this circumstance did not meet the narrow exceptions that a woman’s life, not her health, put her in danger.
The patient was told, “The fetal anomaly presented no medical danger to you,” despite the admonitions of her physician. The best she could do is to negotiate the cost down to $5,000.
This story, without question, is tragic. A very much wanted pregnancy could not be continued, and on top of this loss, the family was left with a substantial unpaid medical bill.
Health insurance is designed to protect patients from incurring catastrophic bills following a catastrophic medical event. But if this amendment passes, insured women would lose any coverage included in the underlying bill, even if she paid for it herself.
Why would this body want to do that? I can’t support that.
A woman’s pregnancy may also exacerbate a health condition that was previously under control. Or a woman may receive a new diagnosis in the middle of her pregnancy. It happens, Mr. President.
If this amendment passes, women in these circumstances would also learn that their insurance does not cover an abortion.
In some cases, it may be unclear whether the woman’s health problem meets the strict definition of “life endangerment.”
The National Abortion Federation has compiled calls that they receive on their hotline, which is available to women who need assistance obtaining abortion care.
Let me give you a few examples (the names have been changed):
- Molly was having kidney problems and was in a great deal of pain. She could not go to work, and could not provide for her two children. When she became pregnant, she made the decision to terminate the pregnancy in order to have her kidney removed to begin her recovery. She knew carrying the pregnancy would create additional health problems, and would leave her unable to provide for her family.
- Jamie already had severe health problems when she learned she was pregnant. She was a severe diabetic and her low blood sugar levels caused her to suffer from seizures. She was unable to continue her pregnancy but had difficulty affording the procedure.
- Another, Holly, was suffering from a serious liver illness when she became pregnant. Doctors were unsure of the cause, but she was in a great deal of pain. She already had two children, who she could not care for because of this pain. The tests and medications she needed to address her medical condition were incompatible with pregnancy.
None of these women were experiencing immediate threats to their lives. So under this amendment, their circumstances would not meet the narrow exceptions permitted for abortion coverage.
This is really a problem. How can one say we’re going to provide insurance but we don’t like one aspect of it, and we don’t want the government to pay for it. Okay, okay. But the woman herself can’t pay for it? That’s the extra step that this legislation takes.
To this day, it is still legal to have an abortion. Women in this situation don’t buy insurance for abortion, but they do buy a policy – married women – in case something happens in the third trimester. For example, if they find a baby is without a brain, she can have an abortion and it is covered.
One of the problems in this whole debate is that everyone sees something through their own lens. They don't see the grief and trouble and morbidity that are out there, and the circumstances that drive a woman to decide -- married -- she has to terminate her pregnancy for very good medical reasons. Nobody considers that.
This is all ideological and it really, deeply bothers me. So, I can tell you that I very much hope this amendment goes down.
Thank you very much, Mr. President. I yield the floor.”