By Susan Rose
Special to Calbuzz
Saturday night’s vote on health care reform was a disaster of mega proportions for American women.
Amid the legislative horse-trading that occurred to pass the bill, women lost big time: the House of Representatives cast 220 votes for health care – and 220 against reproductive health for women.
Between the Catholic Bishops lobbying and the Democratic Blue Dogs yelping we should have seen this coming months ago. We didn’t have a chance.
President Obama said he didn’t want to change the status quo (the existing policy embodied in the Hyde Amendment allows abortions for rape, incest or when a mother’s life is at stake) but that policy has been wavering for years – one vote away at the Supreme Court.
Now Congress has done the hard work for the Supremes. It has been 36 years since Roe v. Wade was decided and now women are about to lose access to safe abortion services. Women are the sacrificial lambs for health care reform and the Democratic Party led the way.
The weapon of choice was the anti-abortion amendment authored by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich.
It cleverly blocks coverage of abortions from several directions: Private insurance companies participating in the new public health exchange would not be able to cover any abortions; women receiving tax subsidies could not use their own money to purchase private insurance that covers abortion, even if it is 100 percent of their own funds; low-income women who depend entirely on public health care would have no access to abortion and no alternative to care; other women would be forced to buy a separate insurance “rider” to cover any future abortions. With these restrictions squeezing out nearly all insurance for abortions, who would be left to provide such services?
The health care debate now moves to the U.S. Senate.
Even if Senators eliminate the offensive Stupak amendment, a final bill must, of course, satisfy both houses. As currently proposed, the health care reform bill would cause more women to have less access to comprehensive health care.
For more than 25 years, the Democratic Party has championed reproductive freedom for women. It has been a main plank in party platforms and all national political conventions. Women’s organizations like NOW, Emily’s List and The Feminist Majority have made choice a litmus test for their endorsements and, in return, have recruited candidates and raised money for their elections. The Democratic Party depended on this support.
The Democrats had an excruciating choice: health care reform or reproductive rights for women. Under Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership they chose health care. Perhaps the Speaker believes that this will be worked out in conference committee, but considering the firestorm now ignited on both sides of the debate, I doubt it. Once again women have been sent a message that they don’t count.
Women may hold up “half the sky” in the rest of the world, but in the US culture, not much has changed. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) introduced in 1972 still hasn’t passed, and CEDAW, the international treaty proposing the elimination of “all forms of discrimination against women,” has been ratified by 186 countries but not by the US. Rape and domestic violence exist in epidemic proportions and universal childcare is not available. Women still don’t matter.
A friend and longtime Democrat told me yesterday she is re-registering as an Independent. The Democratic Party has a lot at stake in this health care vote, not least the majority support of women voters.
Am I angry? You better believe it. The message from Washington D.C. is clear – our government will decide for women how and in what way we control our bodies. We have been hearing the debate for years but we are now much closer to that reality. It was the closing bell on Saturday night.
Susan Rose, a board member of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, served 8 years on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and writes regularly about women’s issues for Calbuzz.