Will we ever be able to discuss abortion as a medical procedure?

When news broke that the health care bill passed a House vote 219-212 on Sunday night, commentary from all sides exploded on television, radio, Twitter, Facebook, and online resources that range from parenting sites to news hubs.

Before all of that, in the midst of the drawn-out debate and speeches by lawmakers, another comment was heard loud and clear. "Baby killer!", the outburst now tied to Republican Representative Randy Neugebauer, interrupted a speech by Representative Bart Stupak.

Stupak, an anti-abortion Democrat, was considered to have a key vote in passing the legislation. Neugebauer says he has since apologized to Stupak and that his exact words were "It's a baby killer," referring to last-minute compromises in the bill and not aimed directly at Stupak. Clarifications and mea culpa aside, the angered sentiment continues to echo in the day-after analysis of the bill.

Abortion, and the hows and ifs of potential federal funding and insurance coverage for the procedure, has been a much-publicized aspect of the health care debate. In the end, it was a compromise on abortion funding that led to the favorable vote but also riled up both anti-abortion and pro-choice activists.

Courtesy the Chicago Tribune, the bill breaks down abortion funding like this:

The bill tries to maintain a strict separation between taxpayer dollars and private premiums that would pay for abortion coverage. No health plan would be required to offer coverage for abortion. In plans that do cover abortion, policyholders would have to pay for it separately, and that money would have to be kept in a separate account from taxpayer money. States could ban abortion coverage in plans offered through the exchange. Exceptions would be made for cases of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother.

Further, new health care laws will protect hospitals, doctors, and medical providers that opt out of providing abortions as a matter of conscious.

Jeanne Sager, writer at CafeMom, says "our pro-choice president gave way like a toddler offered a lollipop" on this concession, and draws this powerful parallel:

In other words -- while a hospital can't traditionally turn you away because of lack of finances, they can turn you away if you lack finances and want an abortion. Even though you ostensibly have as much of a right to choose an abortion as you do to choose to have your gallbladder out. At least according to Roe v. Wade.

A blogger at DaddyTips.com says that placing a procedure like gall bladder surgery up against an abortion brings clarity to a muddled political debate, writing:

The idea of abortion as a legal medical procedure is something that pro-choice advocates should have adopted years ago. What's to stop a group from declaring their opposition to gall bladder surgery? Christian Scientists believe that God will provide, and Scientologists are against the field of psychiatry. Should their beliefs be incorporated into a health care bill as well? Of course not. That's not how we make decisions in this country.

As long as abortion is legal, having one should be considered legally no different than having your gall bladder removed. LEGALLY no different. Not emotionally, not religiously. Legally. If we look at it that way, things become much more clear.

Representatives Chris Smith and Joe Pitts were among those Republicans leading the aggressive charge against abortion funding and coverage. Before the vote, Smith asserted that, "Government funding, facilitation, promotion and mandates will cause abortion rates to skyrocket."

According to the website Catholic News Agency, last summer, Smith spoke out against the health care reform bill with the emotional appeal that the "ugly truth is that his so-called health care reform bill, if enacted, will lead to millions of additional dead children and wounded mothers."

Not only is it clear that pro-choice and anti-abortion activists speak different languages, it is also obvious that both sides have long created (and some allege, co-opted) terms to add emotion or strip it away to reveal to the clinical bones. This, of course, came into play even more as the health care bill was written, amended, discussed, and debated.

But as we move forward, eyes on the bill and what it means for the health, vitality, and economic empowerment of women in particular, is it possible to neutralize the conversation around abortion? Can we, no matter what we believe about reproductive justice, think and discuss abortion as a medical procedure akin to gallbladder surgery? Or even treatment for a person who develops cancer after choosing to smoke -- a diagnosis that, yes, could have been avoided but can be treated medically and covered by insurance should the patient so choose?

What do you say? Will we ever get to the place where we discuss abortion as a medical procedure? If we could, how would this change the lives of women?


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[photo credit: Getty Images]