Opinion: Abortion debate poisons Indian health bill
"Though it has lurked on the sidelines in the national health care debate, Indian Health Services is one instructive example of a government-run health system that, for all its faults, serves as a fraying lifeline for impoverished communities devastated by just about everything from diabetes to teen suicide.

The native health crisis might get some long overdue relief from Congress. Both the proposed overhaul legislation and the pending Indian Health Care Improvement Act could significantly expand in funding for services as well as infrastructure for the network of IHS clinics and hospitals. But history suggests that those hard-fought improvements could come at a steep political price, as culture wars have a funny way of turning native women’s bodies into a battleground.

While native communities have a big stake in health care reform, they're also prone to becoming a political football. Last year, a Senate bill to strengthen IHS foundered when Sen. David Vitter injected a poison pill amendment specifically aimed at restricting access to abortion for native women. Vitter's amendment could be seen as symbolic in that it replicated the language of the Hyde Amendment's broad restrictions on federal funding for abortion services. That longstanding anti-choice policy disproportionately impacts all poor women.

Still, since the proposed amendment would codify Hyde in the IHS statute--and because native women suffer from huge health disparities and barriers to care, advocates argued that Vitter's move would subject native women to an especially discriminatory, more permanent and restrictive version of Hyde. Vitter figured that in attacking abortion rights, there was no better place to start than one of the most medically disenfranchised groups of women in America."

Get the Story:
Michelle Chen: Indian Health And Abortion Rights: A Dose Of Hope Laced With Poison Pills (RaceWire 12/3)

Indian Health Care Improvement Act:
S.1790 | H.R.2708

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