Missouri is trying to remain true to its slogan, the “Show Me State,” by helping lead the charge in anti-health reform legislation prohibiting abortion services for health insurance obtained through the exchange – (the term used for the health care insurance marketplace instituted by national health reform).  Yet it certainly leaves one wondering…show me what?

Now sitting on Governor’s desk is a bill that strips the state exchange of offering any kind of abortion coverage to consumers– even through an optional rider.  Similar to the flurry of anti-reform constitutional amendments being adopted across many states, this legislation is based on a model developed by the Americans United for Life (AUL), a non-profit law and policy group.  The model, entitled “The Federal Abortion-Mandate Opt-Out Act,” is in the pipeline in almost 30 states, according to AUL.  Thus far, Mississippi, Arizona, Tennessee and Louisiana have passed the prohibition measure – the measure was vetoed in Oklahoma and Florida.

Claiming to be founded upon a pro-family platform, AUL aspires to stall the progress of health care reform by barring consumers from some patient services.  Yet eliminating family planning services from exchanges does not promote a family friendly policy environment – but supporting gender equity does.  According to the National Law Center for Women, 17 percent of Missouri women forgo needed care due to their higher cost of health care – these include a broad range of services.  Women in Missouri are, on average, poorer than men and tend to work for small businesses that do not offer health coverage.  This is not only a strain on women and their health but also their families.

Advocates can challenge these flawed attempts to dismantle health reform and propose a broader pro-family agenda by driving home the message of gender equity.   A pro-family message is one that encompasses supporting all women at all times in their lives – daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, and grandmothers alike.  Other states have stepped up to rid their health care systems of inequitable gender rating that charge women as much as 4-48 percent more than men for the same health care policy.

However, these positive steps are not without their critics.  Before Colorado passed its ban on gender rating in the individual market this past spring (in the week following health reform passage), an insurance underwriter commented to the legislature that perhaps “we should ‘blame God’ because men’s parts were on the outside and women’s parts were on the inside.”  State Senator Morgan Carroll responded to his comment by suggesting “perhaps his brain is on the outside.”  Further, Rep. Jim Kerr suggested that women enjoyed shopping and perhaps they should do a better job shopping for health insurance.

The absurdity of the discussion makes you laugh and grimace simultaneously – but the issue remains in play in many states.  Women are often the center of their families, before and after they procreate – a real pro-family policy would be for all to acknowledge their right to a healthy and long life.  So, show me gender equity!

–Eva Marie Stahl, policy consultant