A cluster of reproductive rights supporters gathered outside San Francisco City Hall this afternoon to speak out against an amendment to the federal health care reform bill that would restrict health insurance coverage for abortion.

The rally was organized by the California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, in conjunction with demonstrations planned today in Washington, DC.

“I think in California we’re OK,” said Libby Benedict of member group Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health. However, she said constituents and lawmakers to the east “need a reminder that health care should be non-discriminatory.”

Known as the Stupak or Stupak-Pitts amendment, the language would prohibit using funds from the Affordable Health Care for America Act “to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion,” except in cases of rape, incest or injury, or illness.

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and co-sponsor Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Penn., introduced the amendment Nov. 7, shortly before the U.S. House approved the bill. The bill is headed to the U.S. Senate, where Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., has said he plans to introduce similar language into the Senate version of the bill.

Standing in front of San Francisco City Hall this afternoon, Belle Taylor-McGhee, president of the Pacific Institute for Women’s Health, said this language would mean abortions could not be covered in the public health care option, or by any private plans that accept government-subsidized patients.

Many private insurance plans already cover abortion, she said. “We do not want health care reform that takes away coverage women already have,” she said.

Speaking to a crowd of women of all ages and a healthy sprinkling of men, City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the amendment is really an attack on the legality of abortion, framed in the context of health care reform.

“Make no mistake, this is about a more basic and much larger battle,” he said.

Speakers said the amendment would not only limit options for women who pay for their own insurance, as well as uninsured and underinsured women who rely on public assistance. Several noted that federal funds, including programs like Medicaid and government health care, cannot be used for abortions under a 1977 law known as the Hyde Amendment.

Stupak, the amendment’s author, said in a statement that the amendment “mirrors the existing federal policy” by applying the Hyde Amendment to the health care reform bill.
Language on Stupak’s official Web site states that the amendment has no impact on private insurance, and “in no way prohibits any individual from purchasing a supplemental abortion coverage policy.”

Norma Jo Waxman, a family physician at the University of California at San Francisco, said that purchasing an “abortion rider” for health insurance would compromise women’s privacy.

She dismissed the idea as “ridiculous,” and asked, “does anybody plan to have an abortion?”

“Hell no!” replied the passionate crowd. Many carried signs saying “Stop Stupak” and “Pass Health Care Reform.”

Standing with a group of colleagues from UCSF’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, Mary, who declined to give her last name, said speaking out on this issue is critical, even in a state where both U.S. senators are strong supporters of abortion rights.
“People who oppose abortion have no problem speaking up, so we might as well,” she said.

Supervisor Bevan Dufty told the group that the amendment is “diametrically opposed to what we as a city are about.”

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