Abortion Remains A Foil for Opponents of Reform

Amanda Marcotte

All the sexual health-specific sturm und drang around the process of health reform over the past few months has resulted in a set of bills all of which that take roughly the same “abortion neutral” approach.

All the sexual health-specific sturm und drang around the process of health reform over the past few months—hysterical
anti-choice protests, representatives spreading false stories about school
field trips to get abortion
, and Senators pushing to restore
abstinence-only funding
—has resulted in a set of bills all of which that take roughly
the same approach to abortion, what some call an “abortion neutral” approach. 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, for example, included the Capps Amendment, under which private insurers would not use
federal money to pay for abortion, but nor would these private insurers be required to drop
abortion coverage they now offer.  Bills coming from the other House committees and the Senate
have similar language.  In
addition, the Capps Amendment has a gimme for anti-choicers—each state
exchange would be required to offer abortion hysterics at least one plan that
doesn’t cover abortion (so they won’t be tempted, I suppose).  This represents an improvement for
Fetus People everywhere, as most of them currently are paying into insurance
systems that cover abortion, though probably most don’t realize it.  After all, even for the most diehard
anti-choicers, abortion seems only to matter when it can be used as a cudgel
for a larger right wing agenda.

In order to maintain an abortion neutral stance, the Capps
Amendment would require that insurance companies bookmark all money coming in
from federal subsidies as non-abortion money, and only pay for abortions out of
privately paid premiums.  Since
this would require further bookkeeping, I was concerned that insurance
companies would simply forgo covering abortion, rather than pay to keep track
of what money they can and can’t use to cover abortion. But I contacted the
National Partnership for Women and Families, who has been doing the hard work
of keeping track of all the complicated details of the various bills and their
potential effects, and they pointed out that the Capps Amendment requires there
to be at least one insurance company that does provide abortion and one that
doesn’t in each state exchange, and this creates an incentive for insurance
companies who already cover abortion to keep doing so.  (However, this provides no more than
incentive—the amendment doesn’t give the government power to require that any
one company does provide abortion coverage.) That, and insurance companies are
used to endlessly complex bookkeeping, so adding one more requirement
separating this pool of money from that wouldn’t be too difficult for
them.

All of this hard work on creating an abortion neutral stance
might be for naught, however, as some (invariably male) members of Congress are
promising to fight for abortion restrictions to be injected in the bill during
the debate process.  The House
Rules Committee could put a stop to such amendments, so the greatest
danger lies in the Senate, where Orrin Hatch has indicated he will try
to amend the bill so that it prevents any insurance company in the system from
covering abortion, no matter whose money they use to fund it.

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If he succeeds, this would strip abortion coverage from
millions of American women who currently have that coverage under private
insurance.  To make things worse, I
have no doubt that such a victory would do nothing to satiate those who are
screaming about how health care reform will turn the nation’s women into a sea
of hussydom; they will simply move onto to protesting contraception coverage in
the bill.  And since they’ve got no
problem lying about what’s in the bill now—see again rumors about abortion
clinics being established in schools—stringent bans on abortion funding will
not keep the right wing rumor mill from churning out stories about how health
care reform means federal funding for abortion.  For pro-choice congresspersons tempted to give in on abortion to
move this thing forward, please remember this:  Our opposition isn’t constrained by the truth, and they’ll
happily keep spreading misinformation about abortion funding if that’s what it
takes to keep the protesters active and pressure high to kill health care
reform altogether.

Right now, an amendment that would require insurance
companies to drop coverage for abortion looks unlikely.  A coalition of 40 anti-choice House
Democrats, led by Rep. Bart Stupak, are making
factually incorrect claims
about the Capps Amendment and abortion
subsidies, in order to push for a bill that would strip women of
already-existing abortion coverage. 
Stupak has threatened that a bill without a ban on abortion coverage
would be voted down by this contingent of badly-informed anti-choice Democrats,
but in reality, this seems unlikely. 
There might be a few Democrats willing to destroy health care coverage
in order to force unwilling women to give birth, but at the end of the day, I’m
sure most of them aren’t looking forward to being held accountable for stopping
legislation that would relieve the voting public of many of their health care
woes.

Anyone who uses abortion as a weapon to stall or kill health
care reform should be ashamed to use such a feel-good term as “pro-life” to
describe themselves. The only people demonstrating respect for life in this
debate are the people who want to pass health care reform that will save actual
human lives.  The willingness of so
many anti-choicers to subject the public at large to escalating health care
costs and lack of coverage in order to send a dogma-inspired message of disapproval
for citizens’ private sexual choices should make it clear that they’re far from
being anything even resembling “pro-life.”  After all, if you were really such a fan of life, you would
put life and the saving of it before petty, reactionary attitudes about sex and
gender roles that inspire all this anxiety over abortion.  It’s time for our representatives to
stop pandering to the public’s impulse to lay sexual judgments, and start doing
their job of protecting the public’s actual interests.  And right now, we the people need
better health care coverage.  

Commentary Human Rights

The Democratic National Convention Was a Remarkable Victory for Disabled People

s.e. smith

This year's convention included disabled people every evening, as part of a larger inclusive policy that made 2016 a banner year for disability rights activists.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

On Thursday night, Hillary Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Her speech included many of the elements one expects from a nominee, but there were some standout moments—like when she mentioned disability rights, which she did repeatedly.

Clinton integrated disability into her discussion of her record, talking about her work to ensure that disabled children have the right to go to school and bringing up the health-care needs of disabled youth. Her commentary reinforced the fact that she has always cared about disability issues, particularly in the context of children’s rights.

But she did more than that. She referenced shortages of mental health beds. She explicitly called out disability rights as necessary to defend. And at one point, she did not mention disability, which in itself was radical. When she outlined her plans for gun reform and clearly stated that she wanted to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, she referenced people with criminal histories and terrorists, but not mentally ill people, who have been fighting a surge in stigma thanks to perennial (and wildly incorrect) assertions that mental illness causes violence. That omission was clearly deliberate, given the meticulous level of crafting that goes into writing one of the most important speeches of a presidential candidate’s career.

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The nominee’s speech would have been remarkable on its own, but what made it truly outstanding is that it was far from the first appearance of disability at this year’s Democratic National Convention (DNC). The convention included disabled people every evening as part of a larger inclusive policy that made 2016 a banner year for disability rights activists, who are used to being invisible. These kinds of appearances normalized disability, presenting it as a part of some people’s lives and a source of pride, not shame or misery.

On Monday, for example, disability rights activist Anastasia Somoza rolled out to give a sharp, compelling speech that didn’t cast disability in a tragic or exceptional light. She wasn’t the only wheelchair user to appear on the DNC stage—Paralympic athlete Mallory Weggemann led the pledge of allegiance on a different evening. Dynah Haubert, an attorney for Disability Rights Pennsylvania, took the stage on Tuesday. Nor were wheelchair users the only disabled people represented. Ryan Moore, a longtime friend of Clinton’s, spoke about health care and his experiences as a man with spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenital syndrome, a form of dwarfism. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy talked about his learning disabilities. Musician Demi Lovato, who has bipolar disorder, took on mental health.

Former Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, a nondisabled man who played an instrumental role in the push to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, taught the crowd sign language during a lively speech about the fight for disability rights on Tuesday, the 26th anniversary of the landmark legislation.

On Wednesday night, former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) strode out onto the DNC stage in Philadelphia, smiling and waving at the crowd, to make a few short remarks. “Speaking is difficult for me,” she concluded, “but come January 2017 I want to say these two words: ‘Madam President.'” Her speech was about gun violence—a subject with which she’s intimately familiar after being shot in the head in 2011.

This level of representation is unprecedented. Some speakers, like Somoza, explicitly talked about disability rights, putting the subject in the spotlight in a way it’s never been at previous conventions. Others, like Giffords, came up on stage to talk about something else entirely—and happened to represent disability while they were at it. Similarly, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a decorated combat veteran and double amputee, talked about military policy.

This is a striking contrast from the treatment of disability at previous Democratic National Conventions: When disabled people have appeared, it’s often been in the form of a lackluster performance that objectifies disability, rather than celebrating it, as in 1996 when former actor Christopher Reeve framed disability as a medical tragedy.

Disability rights activists have spent decades fighting for this kind of representation. In 1992, two years after the passage of the ADA, the platform included just three mentions of disability. This year, the subject comes up in 36 instances, woven throughout the platform for an integrated approach to disability as a part of society, rather than as something that needs to be walled off into a tiny section of the platform, tokenized, and then dismissed.

In the intervening years, disabled people in the United States have fought for the enforcement of the ADA, and taken the right to independent living to court in 1999’s Olmsted v. L.C., which was namechecked in the 2000 platform and then forgotten. Disabled people advocated to have their rights in school codified with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004, pushed for inclusion in 2010’s Affordable Care Act, and are fighting to pass the Community Choice Act and Disability Integration Act (DIA). Disability rights in the United States has come a long way since 1990’s infamous Capitol Crawl, in which disability rights activists dragged themselves up the steps of the U.S. Capitol, pleading with Congress to pass the ADA.

And as activists have pushed for progress in the courts and in Congress, disability rights have slowly become more prominent in the Democratic party platform. The ADA has been a consistent theme, appearing in every platform since 1992 alongside brief references to civil rights; historically, however, the focus has been on disability as a medical issue. The 1996 platform introduced Medicare, and health care in general, as issues important to the disability community, a refrain that was reiterated in years to come. In numerous years, Democrats addressed concerns about long-term care, in some cases positioning disabled people as objects of care rather than independent people. Disabled veterans have also played a recurring role in the platform’s discussion of military issues. But beyond these topics—again, often approached from a dehumanizing angle—and the occasional lip service to concerns about discrimination and equal rights, until the 2000s, education was the only really consistent disability issue.

In 2000, however, the Democrats went big, building on eight years under President Bill Clinton, and the influence of his then-first lady. For the first time, disability wasn’t simply lumped under “civil rights.” The platform explicitly called out the need for protection from disability hate crimes, but it also began to introduce the idea that there were other issues of relevance to the disability with a discussion of the digital divide and the obstacles that held disabled people back. Almost 30 years after the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which barred disability discrimination by government agencies and contractors, the Democrats were starting to embrace issues like accessibility and independent living, which also played a prominent role in 2000.

It was a hint that the party was starting to think about disability issues in a serious way, especially when in 2008, the Democrats discussed the shameful delay on ratification of the United Nations’ Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, took on the Community Choice Act, talked about the need to enforce IDEA, and, again for the first time, explicitly addressed voting rights issues. By 2012, they were also calling out discriminatory voter ID laws and their disproportionate effect on the disabled community.

That’s tremendous, though incremental, progress.

And this week, the efforts of a generation of disability rights activists are on display everywhere in Philadelphia, where Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky observed that accessibility is a top priority across the city. The DNC is providing expanded accessible seating, wheelchair charging stations, service dog relief areas, Braille materials, closed captioning, American Sign Language interpreters, medication refrigerators, and more. That’s radical inclusion at work, and the result of incredible efforts by disability rights organizers—including the 400 delegates who disclosed disabilities.

Those same organizers have been hounding the presidential candidates, holding them accountable on disability over and over again. They’ve brought up concerns about independent living, wage disparities, education, access to services, accessibility, hate crimes, reproductive rights, the “marriage penalty” and government benefits, and casual disablism in campaign rhetoric and practices. Advocates leaned on the Clinton campaign until it began captioning its content, for example. RespectAbility sent journalists out on the trail, #CriptheVote organized Twitter, and Rev Up encouraged people to register to vote and get involved. The disability community may be more explicitly politically active this year than ever before, and the DNC has been responding accordingly.

Clearly in consultation with disability rights activists, the Democrats have brought a host of new issues into this year’s platform, acknowledging that disabled people are part of U.S. society. Some of the many issues unique to this year’s platform include: abolition of the subminimum wage, concerns about economic opportunities with an explicitly intersectional discussion of the racial wealth gap, affordable housing, accessibility at the polls, the role of disability in the school-to-prison pipeline, and the need for more accurate Census data.

Notably, in a platform that has loudly called for a Hyde Amendment repeal and pushed for other abortion rights, the Democrats have also reinforced the need for access to reproductive health for disabled people, a revolutionary clause that’s gone virtually unnoticed.

This is a platform—and convention—of aggressive inclusion, and it reflects a victory for disabled people in the United States. It does still lack some components the disability community would like to see, like a shoutout to the DIA, which Clinton supports. This is, however, the start of what looks like a robust and real relationship between the Democrats and the disability rights community.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Clarifies Position on Federal Funding for Abortion, Is ‘for the Hyde Amendment’

Ally Boguhn

The Democratic Party voiced its support for rolling back the restriction on federal funding for abortion care in its platform, which was voted through this week.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Hillary Clinton’s running mate, clarified during an interview with CNN on Friday that he still supports the Hyde Amendment’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

During Kaine’s appearance on New Day, host Alisyn Camerota asked the Democrat’s vice presidential nominee whether he was “for or against” the ban on funding for abortion. Kaine replied that he had “been for the Hyde Amendment,” adding “I haven’t changed my position on that.”

Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, told CNN on Sunday that Kaine had “said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment.” Another Clinton spokesperson later clarified to the network that Kaine’s commitment had been “made privately.”

The Democratic Party voiced its support for rolling back the restriction on federal funding for abortion care in its platform, which was voted through this week.

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“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,” reads the platform.

Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard that he was not aware that the party had put language outlining support for repealing Hyde into the platform, noting that he had “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Clinton has repeatedly said that she supports Hyde’s repeal, calling the abortion care restriction “hard to justify.”

Abortion rights advocates say that Hyde presents a major obstacle to abortion access in the United States.

“The Hyde amendment is a violent piece of legislation that keeps anyone on Medicaid from accessing healthcare and denies them full control over their lives,” Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, said in a statement. “Whether or not folks believe in the broken U.S. political system, we are all impacted by the policies that it produces. … Abortion access issues go well beyond insurance and the ability to pay, but removing the Hyde Amendment will take us light years closer to where we need to be.”