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Patrick Springer, Published December 02 2009

Fargo women to lobby in D.C. against amendment to House health care bill

A group of women is traveling to Washington to meet with the North Dakota congressional delegation about the importance of unhindered private insurance coverage for abortion.

Cheryl Bergian of Fargo is one of seven who are making the trip to lobby against an amendment to the U.S. House health reform bill, which restricts access to abortion for women who receive subsidized health insurance.

If passed in the name of health reform, the amendment would significantly restrict access to health care for women, Bergian said Tuesday.

“This is a step backwards,” she said. “This is not a step forwards.”

The changes are contained under the Stupak amendment to the House health reform bill, which Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., voted for, saying it was not a perfect bill but a means to keep the debate moving ahead.

Also this week, advocates will visit North Dakota field offices of Pomeroy and Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad to deliver letters in support of health care reform.

Women and others who are part the Coalition to Pass Health Care Reform and Stop Stupak! will flock to Washington this week to oppose the provision. The coalition includes more than 50 groups, including Planned Parenthood, the Alliance for Justice, Catholics for Choice and the American Association of University Women.

Federal law for years has banned payments for abortion under the Medicaid and Medicare programs. Anti-abortion groups support the Stupak amendment, and Catholic bishops have been influential advocates for the measure.

If the House amendment becomes law, millions of women who receive subsidized health insurance would not have coverage for abortions or certain reproductive services, according to opponents.

“I don’t want a federal restriction like that for private health insurance,” Bergian said. “We don’t carve out any other exceptions, especially that affect half the population.”

Bergian, a lawyer who represents people in bankruptcy court, said she sees the financial hardships medical bills can cause for working families lacking adequate health insurance, and supports broad health care reform.

Under the House health reform plan, women in families of four with income up to $88,000 a year would receive some level of subsidy, said Kathi Di Nicola, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

That likely means thousands of women in North Dakota and Minnesota would lose coverage for abortions and certain reproductive health services, she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522