Thursday, December 10, 2009

Local abortion supporters' win a battle but the federal funding debate churns on

listen to audio version here.

Last Wednesday, hundreds of abortion rights supporters from around the country headed to Capitol Hill. Their message was clear, no health care bill should be passed that would bar tax funds from being spent on abortions. The Richmond Reproductive Freedom Fund was among them, meeting with Virginia senators about the Nelson Amendment that came up for vote on Tuesday and failed 54-45. The current bill going through the senate doesn’t allow for public funds to be used for abortions but this amendment would also make it impossible for private insurance plans to cover abortion and people who received federal tax cuts couldn’t use these funds to buy a private plan that covered abortion services. While abortion rights supporters were pleased the senate tabled this more extreme measure, they think the federal government needs to do more.

Lindsey Oliver co-founder of the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Fund is one of them. While volunteering to escort women to a Richmond clinic, she found that many women couldn’t get the abortions they came to get because they didn’t have the money. Oliver decided to establish a fund. And the grass roots organization has grown in the six years since its inception, funding 54 women last year throughout Virginia, and occasionally in other states when women are facing extreme conditions.

Oliver feels she has given women a choice that they are legally allowed to make but which many she has encountered can’t afford to. But the organization can’t help everyone that comes to them.

“The truth of the matter is that we do not fund everyone that calls. In fact, we have to let a lot of people, who probably do deserving of funds, to not get funding from us because we just do not have enough money,” said Oliver.

And she knows of some who despite wanting abortions, had to continue their pregnancies because of a lack of funds. Virginia is one of 33 states that operate under the Hyde Amendment, only funding abortion through Medicaid in cases of rape, incest, endangerment to the mother. Virginia also allows for funding in cases of fetal abnormality. But Oliver says the women or a clinic must have the money up front, and reimbursement is often hard to come by.

“It’s really murky when you get into Virginia legislative protocol, which is another problem. There’s really no state money going toward it.”

She says not funding abortions is unfairly targeting poor women and infringing on rights given by Roe v. Wade.

“If we had enough funding we’d be able to open the doors to people to be able to have access to make decisions about their families,” Oliver says. “I pay for a lot of things in the government that I don’t necessarily agree with either. Health care should not be based on moral decisions, it should be based on what is safe and what is legal. And abortion is safe and legal.”

But Oliver isn’t the only organization in Virginia with something to say about what the federal health care bill should include. The Virginia Society for Human Life works toward passing legislation that is the most protective of human life. The organization works with 42 pregnancy resource centers around the state. They played a role in getting the parental involvement and right to know laws passed. The president of VSHL, Olivia Gans says that public opinion doesn’t support paying for abortion. In fact, in a Pew Research poll from November 2009, 55 percent of Americans say it should not be a covered benefit in the health care bill.

“So this is not a small minority of the American public impose their will on this program. This is how Americans believe and think on this issue,” said Gans. “Congress needs to be aware that it is their responsibility to be responsive to the will of the American people.

She believes she shouldn’t be forced to pay for something she disagrees with.

“I cannot be forced to pay for the killing of another human being simply because the law has the power to make it legal,” said Gans.

The Virginia Society for Human Life thinks the answer is to inform and educate women about their unborn child and the resources that exist in their communities. Gans says abortion rights organizations are assuming poor women and others in difficult situations want to have abortions.

“Let’s get creative and stop saying to women, whether their poor, whether their young, whether their older. Whatever her circumstances, let’s stop saying to women, as a society, your circumstances are far too difficult the best thing we can offer to you is to have an abortion.”

The Richmond Reproductive Freedom Fund and the Virginia Society for Human Life may take completely opposing sides in the abortion funding debate that is rumbling through the senate right now but both say they are glad that the public is talking about this hot button issue.

As Senate debate over the health care bill continues, abortion rights supporters will have to fend off amendments that can further chisel away at abortion coverage. Anti-abortion Democrats, like Senator Ben Nelson who proposed the bill that was defeated Tuesday, will be necesary to prevent a filibuster and pass the bill before Christmas.

-Caroline Jackson

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