Mainstream Media Reinforces Unexamined Arguments Against Public Funding for Abortion

Amanda Marcotte

Will abortion be the magic bullet that kills off health care reform? Mainstream media seems to be doing its best to make it happen.

Will abortion be the magic bullet that kills off health care reform?  Certainly it seems that mainstream media sources—the same ones that are pushing the idea that health care reform is dead, in a classic “tell a lie until it’s true” maneuver—believe that abortion is an effective cudgel to beat health care reform to death.  (Why there’s strong motivation to kill health care reform is a topic for another day—my pet theory is that many pundits are angry with Democrats for making them cover complicated policy issues, when they’d rather be talking about what Sonia Sotomayor is wearing and whether or not Regina Benjamin is too fat.)  

Sunday afternoon, I plugged the word “abortion” into Google News to see what I got back.  Just the word “abortion”, with no other terms like “health care”, and the first hit was 13,000 stories about abortion and health care reform.  And sadly, there was rampant disregard, and in some cases, open contempt for the truth of the situation.

Here’s the unvarnished truth: There is no way that any kind of public health care plan will have elective abortion coverage.  Nor is there any real chance of abortion becoming mandated coverage.  It’s more likely that breast implants will be paid for by tax money.  It’s more likely that a public insurance option will provide everyone with an iPod Touch.  Believe me; even most pro-choicers gave up a long time ago on hoping that we could overturn the Hyde Amendment that bans women who are on federally funded insurance programs from getting elective abortions covered, and there’s no way that this will change if the number of women on federally funded health insurance grows. And even though it would only be fair and cost-effective to mandate coverage for elective abortion, in this country that’s sadly a pipe dream.

But you wouldn’t know it to read the media coverage of this issue.  Instead, we’ve got the toxic mixture of pants-on-fire lying anti-choicers and cowardly media outlets that give the opponents of health care reform an opportunity to lie about the potential for taxpayer-funded abortions. Fox News, of course, has been at the forefront of promoting the absolutely evidence-free assertion that there’s any chance of abortion becoming mandated coverage, but I’ve also been surprised to see NPR allow Douglas Johnson of National Right To Life lie, stating, “And there is no doubt whatever that abortion, elective abortion, would be among those services mandated.”  Though I shouldn’t have been surprised—the lazy reliance on “some people say X/some people say Y” journalism has created a situation where all sorts of people who view the truth as a mere obstacle get to go on TV and the radio and lie without being confronted about it.

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One thing that makes pushing back against the abortion narrative that’s forming in the mainstream media is that health care defenders— including President Obama—are so busy trying to shut down the misinformation about abortion coverage that we’re not having the more interesting discussion about whether or not abortion should be covered.  And by not having that discussion, we’re allowing the belief that some people’s moral objections to abortion should dictate federal policy lay unchallenged.

Jamison Foser of Media Matters wrote
a thought-provoking article about how the common wisdom has come to
support the idea of bans on federal funding of abortion coverage, and
the lapse of professional responsibility that allows journalists to
perpetuate this common wisdom.  He points to the privileging of
opposition to abortion over support for abortion rights as the cause:

Instead, Matthews has adopted the premise that taxpayer funds shouldn’t be used to pay for abortions, no matter how indirectly, because some taxpayers believe abortion to be immoral. On Wednesday’s Hardball, for example, Matthews asked Obama adviser David Axelrod: "[I]f the federal government spends money on abortions, that means people who believe abortion is evil would be forced to have their tax money go to pay for abortions. How do you justify that?"

That premise is only superficially compelling, and has no business underlying an impartial news report. After all, millions of Americans believe the death penalty and wars of choice are immoral. But the moral beliefs of pacifists and death penalty opponents are not granted the privilege the media grants opposition to legal abortion — and so you rarely see a news report premised on the idea that taxpayer funding for war or capital punishment is inappropriate.

The whole article beyond just this excerpt is compelling, so I highly recommend it.  I’m going to agree with Foser that the assumption that anti-choicers are the ones who have “morality” (as if putting yourself out there in defense of women’s lives, as pro-choicers do, isn’t moral) feeds this.  But I think there’s more to the story than that.  And I think it’s because war and the death penalty aren’t about sex, and so they aren’t as interesting to people.

Or, to put it another way, war and the death penalty are grim things that we like to pretend that proponents don’t enjoy.  (Not likely true in the case of the likes of Dick Cheney, but for the sake of the argument.)  Opponents of using taxpayer money to kill real people can’t get around the assumption that war and death penalty supporters are serious people who have at least considered the moral weight of taking human lives.

But I suspect that anti-choicers latched onto taxpayer-funded abortions, because they can count on a lot of the public to imagine the government funding female licentiousness.  Anger about (purely imaginary) taxpayer-funded abortion has more in common with anger about (also imaginary) “welfare queens”, who are also constructed as sexual deviants who use government money to fund their sex lives. I’m reminded of Bill O’Reilly’s rant against insurance companies covering contraception, where he compared covering contraception to paying for women’s dinner dates.  
Rarely do anti-choicers leaning on this stereotype of sexual women as frivolous and amoral need to actually say it as bluntly as O’Reilly did. 

But this ongoing belief that a woman who sees action between her thighs has none going on in her head is the constant fuel in the abortion debate fire, no matter what the flavor of the debate is this month. But the good news is that this contempt for female sexuality has receded enough that the media debate hasn’t—yet—turned to whether or not health care reform should cover contraception.

News Politics

Congresswoman Pushes Intersectionality at Democratic National Convention

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) charges that reproductive health-care restrictions have a disproportionate impact on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

The members of Congress who flocked to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week included a vocal advocate for the intersection of racial and reproductive justice: Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

Watson Coleman’s longstanding work in these areas “represented the intersection of who I am,” she said during a discussion in Philadelphia sponsored by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Cosmopolitan. Reproductive health-care restrictions, she stressed, have a disproportionate effect on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

“These decisions impact these communities even more so [than others],” she told Rewire in an interview. “We don’t have the alternatives that middle-class, suburban, white women have. And we’d rather they have them.”

Watson Coleman has brought that context to her work in Congress. In less than two years on Capitol Hill, she co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls and serves on the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, a GOP-led, $1.2 million investigation that she and her fellow Democrats have called an anti-choice “witch hunt.”

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Coleman said she’s largely found support and encouragement among her fellow lawmakers during her first term as a woman of color and outspoken advocate for reproductive rights.

“What I’ve gotten from my Republican colleagues who are so adamantly against a woman’s right to choose—I don’t think it has anything to do with my being a woman or an African American, it has to do with the issue,” she said.

House Republicans have increasingly pushed anti-choice policies in advance of the ongoing August recess and November’s presidential election. The House this month passed the Conscience Protection Act, which would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face supposed coercion to provide abortion care or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in such care.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) lauded passage of the bill and the House’s thus-far unsuccessful effort to prove that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations—allegations based on widely discredited videos published by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice front group that has worked closely with GOP legislators to attack funding for Planned Parenthood.

On the other side of the aisle, Watson Coleman joined 118 other House Democrats to co-sponsor the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act (HR 2972). Known as the EACH Woman Act, the legislation would overturn the Hyde Amendment and ensure that every woman has access to insurance coverage of abortion care.

The Hyde Amendment’s restriction of federal funding for abortion care represents a particularly significant barrier for people with low incomes and people of color.

The Democratic Party platform, for the first time, calls for repealing the Hyde Amendment, though the process for undoing a yearly federal appropriations rider remains unclear.

For Watson Coleman, the path forward on getting rid of the Hyde Amendment is clear on at least one point: The next president can’t go it alone.

“The president will have to have a willing Congress,” she said. She called on the electorate to “recognize that this is not a personality contest” and “remove some of those people who have just been obstructionists without having the proper evidence.”

In the meantime, what does a “willing Congress” look like for legislation with anti-choice roadblocks? A majority voting bloc helps, Watson Coleman said. But that’s not everything.

“There are lots of bills that Republicans will vote for if their leadership would simply bring them up,” she said.

News Politics

Democratic Party Platform: Repeal Bans on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Hillary Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde Amendment.”

Democrats voted on their party platform Monday, codifying for the first time the party’s stated commitment to repealing restrictions on federal funding for abortion care.

The platform includes a call to repeal the Hyde Amendment, an appropriations ban on federal funding for abortion reimplemented on a yearly basis. The amendment disproportionately affects people of color and those with low incomes.

“We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured,” states the Democratic Party platform. “We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.”

The platform also calls for an end to the Helms Amendment, which ensures that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.”

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Though Helms allows funding for abortion care in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, the Obama administration has failed to enforce those guarantees.

Despite the platform’s opposition to the restrictions on abortion care funding, it makes no mention of how the anti-choice measures would be rolled back.

Both presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have promised to address Hyde and Helms if elected. Clinton has said she would “fix the Helms Amendment.”

Speaking at the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum in January, Clinton said that the Hyde Amendment “is just hard to justify because … certainly the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.” In 2008, Clinton’s campaign told Rewire that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said in an interview with the Weekly Standard that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

“The Hyde amendment and Helms amendment have prevented countless low-income women from being able to make their own decisions about health, family, and future,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement, addressing an early draft of the platform. “These amendments have ensured that a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion is a right that’s easier to access if you have the resources to afford it. That’s wrong and stands directly in contrast with the Democratic Party’s principles, and we applaud the Party for reaffirming this in the platform.”