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.

Meghan Rhoad is a researcher in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.