(New York) - The "Stupak amendment" to the House health care reform bill, which would effectively eliminate abortion access for millions of women, threatens women's human rights, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to US senators today. The restrictive provision was included in the final health care reform bill that passed the House earlier this month, and similar language is likely to be considered in the Senate.

"The Stupak amendment will put access to safe abortion out of financial reach of millions of women," said Marianne Mollmann, advocacy director for women's rights at Human Rights Watch. "Our research shows that this kind of restriction does not prevent abortion - it just drives women toward cheaper underground services that may endanger their heath."

The amendment, if signed into law, would prohibit anyone receiving a federal subsidy for health insurance from using it in the newly created government exchange to purchase an insurance plan that includes coverage for abortion except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest. As a result, it would limit access to insurance coverage for abortion for many low and middle income women. It also could undermine existing coverage for women on employer-based private plans, 87 percent of which cover abortion.

Existing federally subsidized medical care such as Medicaid is already subject to a federal funding ban, in place since 1977, except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest. The majority of states do not provide funding for abortion services that fall outside these exceptions. Out-of-pocket cost for a safe abortion can range from $500 to $1,500.

"Choice is already an illusion for women with limited financial resources," Mollmann said. "But this proposal directly contradicts the intentions of this huge effort to expand health coverage. Instead of ensuring that everyone has maximum access to health services, the government would be denying access and inserting itself between women and their families in profoundly personal decisions."