A Feminist’s Outrage at Abortion-Health Care Deal


By Susan RoseSusan_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.

nancy_pelosiThe 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.

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There are 8 comments for this post

  1. avatar Ave7 says:

    The entirety of the blame for the most serious undermining of women’s rights by the US Congress in over a quarter century lies singularly with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

    It was Pelosi, a devout Roman Catholic, who personally negotiated the outline of this plan with Cardinal McCarrick last week, it was Pelosi who brought Kathy Saile and other representatives of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops into her capitol office on Friday night to negotiate the final terms of the amendment, it was Pelosi, who when asked about this in a press conference just minutes after the vote, shrugged off the whole issue with barely two sentences of response.

    In short, Pelosi failed a critical test of her leadership. She failed to stop the Stupak insurrection, she failed to secure her own caucus on the President’s top priority, and in the final seconds of the health care reform debate she conceded an anti-feminist amendment to the bill that was backed mostly by people who, fifteen minutes later, voted against health care reform.

    It was Pelosi who silenced Rep. Degette and the pro-choice caucus, elevated the Catholic Bishops to a third house of Congress, and undermined all women by setting in motion what will ultimately be the end of all private insurance coverage for abortion.

    Nancy, we sure hope the communion wafer went down smoothly last Sunday.

  2. avatar TaoTeBJP says:

    As long time supporter of Planned Parenthood at virtually every level (fundraising, donation of money and time, grassroots activism, attending and helping with rallies), Ms. Rose’s editorial causes me great concern.

    A great many supporters of Planned Parenthood and a woman’s right to choose believe a woman should have the right to choose, without legal impediments, but the objections here do not focus on that right, or the legality of abortion. It has to do with whether abortion should be funded or subsidized with federal money. this distinction is blurred when Ms. Rose says “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.” In short, if a woman receives federal money in some form, the money that it frees up for her discretionary income (which she would otherwise not have, because it would have to go to meet other, expenses paid for by the federal government) that is used to pay for an insurance plan that covers abortion is in practicality, government subsidized, albeit not directly.

    The difficulty of governance today is that single issue voters skew elections, usually to the right. The issue of Healthcare Reform is so difficult because of universal GOP opposition.

    The fate of substantial health care reform most likely hinges upon a lot of compromises. While I am opposed to, and let down by, the Stupak amendment, if it is necessary to pass substantial health care reform, I am not going to miss the forests for the trees and punish those like Nancy Pelosi who got the health care bill past the opposition of rigid idealogues. Far too many lives hang in the balance, women’s, men’s and children’s, to let it pass for another 70 years,

  3. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    I Lost My Reproductive Rights and All I Got Was This Lousy Healthcare Bill

    I may make a t-shirt.

    But, after that, I want to find out how eliminating my right to buy insurance that allows me to make my own healthcare decisions fulfills President Obama’s oft-stated goal to increase insurance choice? As a woman, this clearly won’t increase mine.

    I want to know why every woman in the U.S. has to give up her reproductive rights so that a small number of us can get access to healthcare under a bill that probably won’t do much to control costs or increase access and quality. And then not for years and years.

    As a woman, I am also a demographic that Democrats want and need. Women are reliable Democratic voters. We are reliable Democratic donors and volunteers. And we are sick and tired of other people trying to make our life decisions for us as though we were children or mental incompetents. If the government tried to do this to men, they would revolt.

    If Republicans tried to silence male legislators by screaming “I object” when they tried to speak, it would be the outrage of the day. It might have even lead to harsh words and perhaps blows. Yet I have seen only one news report about it when they did it to woman after woman on the House floor.

    I am sick and tired of being a second-class citizen. I am outraged that my sisters and I are treated this way. And I want to know when my government and my Party plans to stick up for me.

  4. avatar winston says:

    “[I]n the US culture, not much has changed.” The American culture you excoriate still does not countenance child rape, child marriage, honor killing or FGM. Has ratification of that international treaty eliminated domestic violence and rape in 186 countries? The starving men, women and children trapped in the gulag that is North Korea aren’t whining about the lack of universal childcare. Your insistence that somehow American women “don’t matter” is insulting to those of us who don’t share your contempt for American exceptionalism. FYI, I’m an attorney, live in a big city and have all my own teeth. You don’t speak for me.

    • avatar SezMe says:

      A tu quoque response doesn’t speak to the issue. Or are you happy to judge our treatment of women based on North Korean standards?

    • avatar Adelaides Lament says:

      And, Winston, what’s your gender? If you don’t mind my asking…

    • avatar winston says:

      not at all, Adelaide. I’m a woman, but your question exemplifies so-called progressives’ desire to label, group and govern individuals. Makes it easier for the “knows best” elite to dictate.

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