The U.S. House of Representatives passed a radical, backward measure on Saturday that would allow the federal government to dictate a sensitive medical decision for millions more American women.

The measure is known as the Stupak amendment. It's named for Bart Stupak, the Democratic Catholic congressman from Michigan who held up passage of the House's health care reform bill last weekend until he and like-minded colleagues could insert their religious views on abortion into the historic legislation.

If enacted, the Stupak amendment would dramatically expand the number of women subject to federal limits on abortion access. Since its passage by Congress in 1976, a measure known as the Hyde Amendment has essentially prohibited the use of federal dollars to pay for abortions. Although most privately insured women have abortion coverage, the Hyde amendment means the medical procedure is not typically covered for women who get their medical care through federal programs. That includes Medicaid, the well-known health care program for the poor, though some states including Minnesota may use state dollars to provide abortions for enrollees.

The Stupak amendment would apply the Hyde restrictions to a new group of women -- those who would receive federal subsidies to help them buy health insurance. About 18 million people are expected to qualify for such subsidies if language in the House bill is ultimately enacted. Few would likely have their entire premiums covered; instead they'd have to contribute their own dollars. The Stupak amendment would bar these women from buying a health insurance plan that covers abortion care.

Proponents of the Stupak amendment, such as Minnesota Democrat Rep. James Oberstar, argue that it simply preserves the status quo when it comes to the Hyde Amendment. That would be easier to swallow if the proposed restrictions on buying coverage would only apply to any new government-run public option. But the Stupak amendment goes much further in expanding the federal restrictions to millions more women -- including those using private dollars to help pay for coverage from private-sector health care plans.

It's no wonder that antiabortion groups are trumpeting this as one of their most significant legislative achievements in years. "This is a huge pro-life victory for women, their unborn children and families,'' said a statement from the Family Research Council, an evangelical Christian lobbying group run by James Dobson.

If enacted, the Stupak amendment could not take away a woman's right to have an abortion and pay for it strictly with her own money. However, the women to whom the restrictions would newly apply are by definition financially unable to afford the cost of health insurance -- that's why they'll get subsidies. A surgical abortion can cost from $600 to $1,000 or more. It's unlikely that many of these women could pay for this out-of-pocket. By curtailing their access to abortion coverage, the Stupak amendment may make the decision for them.

The proposal is blatant government meddling in health care -- and it's wrong. The Senate must act and stop the misguided Stupak amendment from becoming a reality.