Exploiting the Healthcare Debate to Restrict Abortion

Frances Kissling

Faith groups now want to expand the Hyde Amendment so that everyone is denied coverage for abortion care even with private insurance, while the same groups are ignoring the exclusion of undocumented workers.

This article originally appeared on Salon.com.

It was discouraging to hear Barack Obama, the man I supported for
president, announce so resolutely during his speech to Congress last
week that "under our [healthcare] plan no federal dollars will be used
to fund abortion." It was infuriating, however, that before the morning
cock could crow following the speech Jim Wallis of the antiabortion
organization Sojourners was claiming that the president’s remarks on
abortion were just what "a broad coalition of the faith community had
asked for — no federal funding for abortions."

I had been
prepared for Obama to close the door on a healthcare reform package
that would include funding abortions for women who rely on Medicaid for
health coverage. Low-income women already lost that right 30 years ago
when the Supreme Court upheld the Hyde Amendment. I believe a
principled compromise to maintain the status quo on abortion is
justified if it gets us better healthcare for millions of men and women
and security from the rapaciousness of the insurance industry. And no
pro-choice organization wants to bear the responsibility for healthcare
reform failing. And so, tacitly, pro-choice leaders have basically
accepted that the Hyde Amendment restrictions, as well as those that
deny federal workers, women in the military and women who get
healthcare on Indian reservations funding for abortion, would be
reflected in the healthcare package.

Unfortunately, the good will
shown by the pro-choice community has not been met with a good-faith
effort by Wallis and his friends. They now hope to use the president’s
promise as a way to press for further restrictions on abortion coverage
in the final healthcare legislation. As one moderate pro-life leader
told me, "It is going to be a long fall." All the talk about finding
common ground on abortion and the emergence of moderate pro-lifers is
floundering as Wallis and a few others prepare to push Congress and the
White House for further concessions. "[The president’s] commitment to
these principles," said Wallis, "means we can now work together to make
sure that they are consistently and diligently applied to any final
healthcare legislation." For Wallis, that means that "no person should
be forced to pay for someone else’s abortion and that public funds
cannot be used to pay for elective abortions."

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Before the congressional recess, the moderate pro-lifers and
pro-choice leaders had pretty much agreed that both sides would not
seek provisions in healthcare reform that would change the status quo.
Rep Lois Capps, D-Calif., codified that agreement in an amendment to
the House bill. The Capps Amendment gave those opposed to abortion both
the guarantee they wanted that providers would have adequate conscience
protection against having to provide abortions and a prohibition on the
use of federal funds to pay for abortions in accordance with Hyde and
other current federal law. It made no change in the ability of private
insurance plans to decide whether or not to cover abortions, but
prohibited private plans from using federal subsidy dollars for
abortions. It provides that every state have at least one plan that
offers abortion coverage and one that does not, so that someone really
opposed to abortion can buy a plan that does not cover that service.

it now seems, is not enough for Wallis and company. They now want to be
sure that if an anti-choice person chooses a plan that does cover
abortion, the minuscule part of his premium that is allocated to
abortion coverage for all subscribers is not used for abortion. Stephen
Schenk, a moderate pro-life Catholic and a professor at Catholic
University, wants healthcare reform to extend the Hyde Amendment beyond
those groups that are already denied coverage to everyone. "If we are
stuck with the Capps Amendment," he says, "we are going to have
problems." Chris Korzen of Catholics United, a small Catholic advocacy
group that claims to be progressive, is worried that the public option
plan is going to offer abortion coverage. Although it will be funded
through premiums and there will be at least one private plan in the
"exchange" that those opposed to abortion can buy, Korzen is now poised
to oppose abortion coverage in the plan most designed to help
low-income people.

Enough already! This is not an attempt to
achieve common ground and use common sense. This is not that different
from the hard-line Catholic bishops and Family Research Council effort
to use public policy and healthcare reform to make abortion less
available than it already is and stigmatize every woman who even
contemplates it. And frankly, while Christian progressives like Korzen
and Wallis are spending all their time worrying about abortion, they’re
ignoring the major gap in all the plans — the exclusion of
undocumented workers living in the U.S. I always thought faith-inspired
social justice advocates were the ones I could count on to go out on a
limb for what is right, even if it gives the president they helped
elect a hard time. I guess I was wrong.

The irony of all this is that Wallis and Korzen don’t represent the
majority views of either mainline or progressive religion on abortion.
How long the mainline pro-choice faith community will allow Wallis and
a few small groups of progressive Catholics to use healthcare reform to
push for further restrictions on abortion remains to be seen. For
Wallis and others to assert that denying poor women the same access to
abortion as other women is moral and "what a broad coalition of the
faith community had asked for" is as dishonest as claiming, like Joe
"You Lie" Wilson, that the healthcare reform plans are going to provide
coverage to undocumented workers.

The broad coalition Wallis
refers to is, in fact, a specific group that is largely in favor of
federal funding for abortion. All the members of the group have done is
to put that support on the back burner in hopes of getting healthcare
reform passed. Organized under the umbrella name "40 Days for
Healthcare Reform," the coalition draws on about 25 denominations and
independent interfaith groups for various actions. Many of these groups
are on record as supporting public funding for abortion and have worked
to overturn the Hyde Amendment. They include the Religious Action
Center of Reform Judaism, the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal
Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association, Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church USA,
Faith in Public Life, and the Disciples of Christ. Some religious
groups that are not part of the 40 Days campaign are also on record as
supporting Medicaid funding for abortion. The National Coalition of
American Nuns has no position on abortion itself but has since 1976
supported providing federal funds for poor women’s abortions, asserting
that it would be discriminatory to coerce poor women into continuing
pregnancies by denying them the same right to decide as women who can
afford to pay for their own abortions.

So eager are Wallis and
his antiabortion friends to convince the media and policymakers that
progressive religion is antiabortion that they have stacked the deck
and excluded some pro-choice organizations from the effort to pass
healthcare reform. The Web site for the 40 Days campaign sets forward
criteria for membership that exclude religious groups working on
"single issues" — code for abortion. For example, the Religious
Coalition for Reproductive Choice was told that if it sent in a
sponsorship fee for one of the many actions, its check would be
returned. The group, founded by the Women’s Division of the United
Methodist Church, had sent a letter to members of Congress strongly
supportive of federal funding for poor women’s abortions in healthcare
reform. The letter is signed by religious leaders like the deans of the
Howard University and Episcopal divinity schools, as well as Nancy
Ratzen, president of the National Council of Jewish Women and a member
of Obama’s faith-based advisory council.

Wallis and the rest need
to be called to accountability for their decision to push an
antiabortion agenda in the midst of what was meant to be an effort to
reform healthcare. Otherwise, we will see the moral commitment most
mainline and progressive religious groups have to respecting the
consciences of poor and low-income women deeply compromised. Abortion
is not going to sink healthcare reform, but poor faith leadership can
sink the opportunity of poor women for a decent life.

Commentary Politics

Democrats’ Latest Platform Silent on Discriminatory Welfare System

Lauren Rankin

The current draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform contains some of the most progressive positions that the party has taken in decades. But there is a critical issue—one that affects millions in the United States—that is missing entirely from the draft: fixing our broken and discriminatory welfare system.

While the Republican Party has adopted one of the most regressive, punitive, and bigoted platforms in recent memory, the Democratic Party seems to be moving decisively in the opposite direction. The current draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform contains some of the most progressive positions that the party has taken in decades. It calls for a federal minimum wage of $15; a full repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funding for abortion care; and a federal nondiscrimination policy to protect the rights of LGBTQ people.

All three of these are in direct response to the work of grassroots activists and coalitions that have been shifting the conversation and pushing the party to the left.

But there is a critical issue—one that affects millions in the United States—that is missing entirely from the party platform draft: fixing our broken and discriminatory welfare system.

It’s been 20 years since President Bill Clinton proudly declared that “we are ending welfare as we know it” when he signed into law a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. welfare system. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 implemented dramatic changes to welfare payments and eligibility, putting in place the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. In the two decades since its enactment, TANF has not only proved to be blatantly discriminatory, but it has done lasting damage.

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In one fell swoop, TANF ended the federal guarantee of support to low-income single mothers that existed under the now-defunct Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. AFDC had become markedly unpopular and an easy target by the time President Clinton signed welfare reform legislation into law, with the racist, mythic trope of the “welfare queen” becoming pervasive in the years leading up to AFDC’s demise.

Ronald Reagan popularized this phrase while running for president in 1976 and it caught fire, churning up public resentment against AFDC and welfare recipients, particularly Black women, who were painted as lazy and mooching off the government. This trope underwrote much of conservative opposition to AFDC; among other things, House Republican’s 1994 “Contract with America,” co-authored by Newt Gingrich, demanded an end to AFDC and vilified teen mothers and low-income mothers with multiple children.

TANF radically restructured qualifications for welfare assistance, required that recipients sustain a job in order to receive benefits, and ultimately eliminated the role of the federal state in assisting poor citizens. The promise of AFDC and welfare assistance more broadly, including SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps) benefits, is that the federal government has an inherent role of caring for and providing for its most vulnerable citizens. With the implementation of TANF, that promise was deliberately broken.

At the time of its passage, Republicans and many Democrats, including President Bill Clinton, touted TANF as a means of motivating those receiving assistance to lift themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps, meaning they would now have to work while receiving benefits. But the idea that those in poverty can escape poverty simply by working harder and longer evades the fact that poverty is cyclical and systemic. Yet, that is what TANF did: It put the onus for ending poverty on the individual, rather than dealing with the structural issues that perpetuate the state of being in poverty.

TANF also eliminated any federal standard of assistance, leaving it up to individual states to determine not only the amount of financial aid that they provide, but what further restrictions state lawmakers wish to place on recipients. Not only that, but the federal TANF program instituted a strict, lifetime limit of five years for families to receive aid and a two-year consecutive limit, which only allows an individual to receive two years of consecutive aid at a time. If after five total years they still require assistance to care for their family and themself, no matter their circumstances, they are simply out of luck.

That alone is an egregious violation of our inalienable constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Still, TANF went a step further: It also allowed states to institute more pernicious, discriminatory policies. In order to receive public assistance benefits through TANF, low-income single mothers are subjected to intense personal scrutiny, sexual and reproductive policing, and punitive retribution that does not exist for public assistance recipients in programs like Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs, programs that Democrats not only continue to support, but use as a rallying cry. And yet, few if any Democrats are crying out for a more just welfare system.

There are so many aspects of TANF that should motivate progressives, but perhaps none more than the family cap and forced paternity identification policies.

Welfare benefits through the TANF program are most usually determined by individual states based on household size, and family caps allow a state to deny welfare recipients’ additional financial assistance after the birth of another child. At least 19 states currently have family cap laws on the books, which in some cases allow the state to deny additional assistance to recipients who give birth to another child. 

Ultimately, this means that if a woman on welfare becomes pregnant, she is essentially left with deciding between terminating her pregnancy or potentially losing her welfare benefits, depending on which state she lives in. This is not a free and valid choice, but is a forced state intervention into the private reproductive practices of the women on welfare that should appall and enrage progressive Democrats.

TANF’s “paternafare,” or forced paternity identification policy, is just as egregious. Single mothers receiving TANF benefits are forced to identify the father of their children so that the state may contact and demand financial payment from them. This differs from nonwelfare child support payments, in which the father provides assistance directly to the single mother of his child; this policy forces the fathers of low-income single women on welfare to give their money directly to the state rather than the mother of their child. For instance, Indiana requires TANF recipients to cooperate with their local county prosecutor’s child support program to establish paternity. Some states, like Utah, lack an exemption for survivors of domestic violence as well as children born of rape and incest, as Anna Marie Smith notes in her seminal work Welfare Reform and Sexual Regulation. This means that survivors of domestic violence may be forced to identify and maintain a relationship with their abusers, simply because they are enrolled in TANF.

The reproductive and sexual policing of women enrolled in TANF is a deeply discriminatory and unconstitutional intrusion. And what’s also disconcerting is that the program has failed those enrolled in it.

TANF was created to keep single mothers from remaining on welfare rolls for an indeterminate amount of time, but also with the express goal of ensuring that these young women end up in the labor force. It was touted by President Bill Clinton and congressional Republicans as a realistic, work-based solution that could lift single mothers up out of poverty and provide opportunities for prosperity. In reality, it’s been a failure, with anywhere from 42 to 74 percent of those who exited the program remaining poor.

As Jordan Weissmann detailed over at Slate, while the number of women on welfare decreased significantly since 1996, TANF left in its wake a new reality: “As the rolls shrank, a new generation of so-called disconnected mothers emerged: single parents who weren’t working, in school, or receiving welfare to support themselves or their children. According to [the Urban Institute’s Pamela] Loprest, the number of these women rose from 800,000 in 1996 to 1.2 million in 2008.” Weissmann also noted that researchers have found an uptick in “deep or extreme poverty” since TANF went into effect.

Instead of a system that enables low-income single mothers a chance to escape the cycle of poverty, what we have is a racist system that denies aid to those who need it most, many of whom are people of color who have been and remain systemically impoverished.

The Democratic Party platform draft has an entire plank focused on how to “Raise Incomes and Restore Economic Security for the Middle Class,” but what about those in poverty? What about the discriminatory and broken welfare system we have in place that ensures not only that low-income single mothers feel stigmatized and demoralized, but that they lack the supportive structure to even get to the middle class at all? While the Democratic Party is developing strategies and potential policies to support the middle class, it is neglecting those who are in need the most, and who are suffering the most as a result of President Bill Clinton’s signature legislation.

While the national party has not budged on welfare reform since President Bill Clinton signed the landmark legislation in 1996, there has been some state-based movement. Just this month, New Jersey lawmakers, led by Democrats, passed a repeal of the state’s family cap law, which was ultimately vetoed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie. California was more successful, though: The state recently repealed its Maximum Family Grant rule, which barred individuals on welfare from receiving additional aid when they had more children.

It’s time for the national Democratic Party to do the same. For starters, the 2016 platform should include a specific provision calling for an end to family cap laws and forced paternity identification. If the Democratic Party is going to be the party of reproductive freedom—demonstrated by its call to repeal both the federal Hyde and Helms amendments—that must include women who receive welfare assistance. But the Democrats should go even further: They must embrace and advance a comprehensive overhaul of our welfare system, reinstating the federal guarantee of financial support. The state-based patchwork welfare system must be replaced with a federal welfare assistance program, one that provides educational incentives as well as a base living wage.

Even President Bill Clinton and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton both acknowledge that the original welfare reform bill had serious issues. Today, this bill and its discriminatory legacy remain a progressive thorn in the side of the Democratic Party—but it doesn’t have to be. It’s time for the party to admit that welfare reform was a failure, and a discriminatory one at that. It’s time to move from punishment and stigma to support and dignity for low-income single mothers and for all people living in poverty. It’s time to end TANF.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.