September 4, 1997
Senate Forbids Medicaid Abortions
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Abortion-rights advocates are complaining that the poor would be hurt by Senate-approved language forbidding the fast-growing managed-care industry from performing Medicaid abortions.
``Instead of proposing measures to reduce the need for abortion, opponents of choice would rather create barriers to make the procedure more difficult and dangerous for women to obtain,'' said Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.
Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said: ``This action stands in stark contrast to the original intent of the federal Medicaid program by further marginalizing poor women and erecting barriers to equal health care for all.''
The Senate approved the provision by voice vote with almost no debate -- reflecting that the language was a compromise worked out by lawmakers on both sides of the issue. The House plans to consider it later this week, like the Senate attaching it to a bill financing the Department of Health and Human Services and several other agencies for the coming fiscal year.
The language, sponsored by Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., prohibits states from using either federal or state money under the Medicaid program to purchase managed-care packages that include abortion coverage. Exceptions would be allowed for pregnancies caused by rape or incest or when the woman's life is in danger.
With those same exceptions, Congress has prohibited most federally financed abortions for two decades. The Ashcroft provision for the first time spells out that the stricture applies to managed care, which states are using to cover 40 percent of low-income Americans under Medicaid.
``It is cheaper for an HMO for a person to have an abortion than if that person delivers a child,'' Ashcroft said in an interview, referring to health maintenance organizations that provide managed care. ``Therefore, there would be a profit incentive on behalf of the HMO to urge people to move toward abortions. I do not want that sort of potential to exist.''
Currently, two-thirds of managed-care plans cover abortion services, Michelman said.
States would still be allowed to use their own money to provide abortions, as long as it was not under Medicaid.
Ashcroft's amendment was passed the same day the House debated a measure cutting off federal money to family-planning organizations that perform or sponsor abortions anywhere in the world.