Last night, I got an email from Barack Obama, telling me that history was made in the U.S. Capitol when the House of Representatives passed the health care reform bill. The email commended me and other progressives for the role that we played in the passage of the bill, attempting to be inspirational. It completely missed the mark. Although I am happy that the health care reform bill passed, I have to disagree with whoever writes Obama’s emails – I spoke up, but I wasn’t heard. This is because the bill that passed last night actively works to curtail women’s reproductive freedom. It is reactionary, and it is certainly not “courageous” – the word that Obama used to describe the passage of the bill.
I wrote yesterday about the provision tacked on to the health-reform bill at the last minute, the Stupak amendment. In the words of Rachel Maddow (who predicted this morning on “Meet the Press” that Democratic women will “revolt” if the amendment isn’t removed), it is the most significant restriction on reproductive choice in a generation, because it essentially makes it impossible for any insurance plan funded with federal money to provide coverage for abortion, except in the case of rape and incest. The amendment was added to the bill last night, and justly infuriated supporters of reproductive freedom. Representative Diana DeGette (D-Colorado), said, “If enacted, this amendment will be the greatest restriction of a woman’s right to choose to pass in our careers.”
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To say that the Stupak amendment is a “poison pill” for pro-choice Democrats is putting it mildly. Although Rep. DeGette and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), have both said that they will vote for the bill despite their ardent pro-choice sentiments, and it looks as though the amendment could be stripped away by the conference committee, this is an enormous betrayal of a significant segment of the voting population.
The Democratic Party relies heavily on women to win elections – as Ann points on Feministing, women’s reproductive rights are not peripheral. They should never be negotiated away. And as an advocate for reproductive justice, I am sick of compromising. This is not a case of losing a battle but winning the war – without adequate coverage for abortion, women do not have the health care they need. Period.
Amanda Marcotte has a post up at Pandagon about what this means for the future – contraception coverage, she suggests, will be next on the chopping block. This may sound extremist, but think back to just over a year ago, when John McCain was unable to clarify his position about insurance coverage of birth control. This year, anti-choicers in Florida were pushing for a personhood amendment that would make most contraception illegal – this is a move that has been made in Colorado and Utah. Although these amendments are unlikely to become a serious threat, their presence is enough to signify that for many people, women do not have the right to control their bodies. The 64 Democrats who voted for the health-care bill are making a milder but no less powerful statement: to suggest that abortion is not part of a comprehensive health plan marginalizes women’s health and freedom.
Rosa DeLauro said that the original compromise in the bill – that federal dollars would not be used to cover abortions – should have been enough for anti-choice Democrats. “Abortion is a matter of conscience on both sides of the debate,” she said. “This amendment takes away that same freedom of conscience from America’s women. It prohibits them from access to an abortion even if they pay for it with their own money. It invades women’s personal decisions.”
Although the passage of the health-reform bill was seminal, pro-choicers need to refuse, in this crucial moment, to compromise. When Obama called the passage of this bill “courageous” and said that “moments like this” were why he was elected to office, he denied the rights of every woman in the country, and that can’t stand.
Some first steps? First, we need to work on overturning the Hyde Amendment, a piece of legislation dating from 1976 that bars the use of federal funds for abortion. Obama has always supported overturning this amendment, but this promise seems to have fallen by the wayside. Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America have action pages as well. And frankly, I suggest letting money talk – in the email sent last night, Obama was asking for donations, but I won’t give a cent to Obama until the Stupak amendment is gone. But most of all, we need to be telling our legislators that for once, women’s health should come first.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.