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A tremendous human rights project is under way in the US Congress. The health care reform effort has the potential to expand access to critical services to uninsured Americans across the country.

But the Stupak amendment undermines this entire effort and directly contradicts the goal of health care reform. Indeed, this amendment would limit women's rights and endanger their health.

To be sure, abortion is a difficult issue that merits debate.   We continue to grapple with this issue as a society.  And this is precisely the reason that the Stupak amendment should be rejected.

Instead of fomenting discussion about how to prevent crisis pregnancies and why women choose to have abortions, the amendment is effectively a blanket denial of access to abortions for women with limited financial resources. These are the women whose needs health care reform is intended to help- women who are the least likely to have access to fertility control , maternity benefits or childcare support.

The Stupak Amendment will do nothing to prevent abortion, but rather, just like prohibition, it will drive the practice underground. 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.

In our research into abortion restrictions, Human Rights Watch has found that this kind of barrier does not lower the number of abortions.  Instead, it forces women to seek cheaper care from unregulated and often unsafe providers.  Worldwide 68,000 women die every year from unsafe abortion, and many more suffer lasting injuries. Adding to this number should not be one of the outcomes of health reform.

But here's the worst part: contrary to assertions made during the debate, the Stupak Amendment is not about making sure taxpayers do not fund abortions. They don't and they won't.  Since 1977, laws have banned the use of federal funds for abortion except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest. The Senate health reform package follows the same rule. 

But in addition, Stupak will effectively obstruct the purchase of private insurance with abortion coverage, thereby inserting the government in the profoundly personal health care decisions made by women, their families, and their doctors. 

Health care reform is about empowering people with the tools they need to take control of their own health. Amendments like Stupak that play politics with women's lives and health have no place in that effort.

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