WASHINGTON -- Despite the failure of the Nelson-Hatch amendment, which would have placed stronger restrictions on abortion coverage in the health reform legislation, a leading voice in the cause of women's reproductive rights said Wednesday the bill remains "highly discriminatory."
"There are still anti-abortion provisions in this bill that are damaging to women," Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organization for Women, told Raw Story in an interview.
"The base legislation in the Senate essentially codifies the Hyde Amendment" that bans federal dollars from being used for abortions, she said, "and that is a huge, huge problem for women."
While the Senate bill's abortion restrictions are now fewer than those in the House version, it bans all abortion coverage for the additional Americans who will receive care under changes to Medicaid and the federal subsidies, both of which are efforts to bring more people into the system.
"With all due respect to our pro-choice friends in elected office who say the Hyde Amendment is settled law, a codification of Hyde is a basic health care statute -- it's not federal law," O'Neill told Raw Story. "And even if it were, it's very wrong settled law."
"And by codifying Hyde, you can't avoid an expansion of the concept," she said, suggesting that it may serve as a precedent to continue weakening abortion rights. "We know that the Hyde amendment has resulted in the deaths of women."
While O'Neill praised the Senate's voting down of Nelson-Hatch as "a positive step" after the success of the similar Stupak-Pitts amendment in the House bill, she said NOW reserves its judgment on the final legislation and in the meantime will continue to fight for abortion rights for women.
“Abortion is health care,” O'Neill said. “Any effort that denies women the right to make decisions about her body is terribly morally wrong.”
"We have longstanding policy in NOW that we don't trade off the rights of some women for the benefit of other women," O'Neill said, and hinted that NOW may not support the Senate bill despite the failure of Tuesday's anti-abortion amendment.
She said the House legislation, which includes the Stupak-Pitts amendment, is not "health care for women, it's an abortion ban for women, and we are utterly opposed to any legislation containing the Stupak-Pitts language."