Historic Health Reform Bill Passes But At a Price: Women’s Groups Have Mixed Reaction

Jodi Jacobson

Last night, the House of Representatives passed "historic" legislation on health care reform, with a vote of 220 to 215.  Democrats were elated at passage of the bill after months of wrangling. Reactions from women's groups has been deeply mixed.

Last night, the House of Representatives passed "historic" legislation on health care reform, with a vote of 220 to 215. 

The one Republican voting in favor of the bill (and thereby making it a "bipartisan" bill, was Joseph Cao (R-LA), who was
immediately vilified by his Republican colleagues in the House and by
conservatives in the blogosphere who engaged in a Twitter campaign condemning him. Cao is
from a largely Democratic district. 

Democrats were elated at passage of the bill after months of wrangling.

The Huffington Post reports that:

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Cao’s vote was a mere bonus for Democrats, whose spontaneous floor
celebration radically outdid the reaction of the Yankees to winning the
World Series recently. The normally stoic Pelosi had tears streaming
down her cheek. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) bent over and vigorously
pumped her fist. Arms were thrown in the air; hugs all around.

As the clock hit ten seconds, Democrats counted down the time,
finishing with an even louder cheer as Pelosi read out the tally:

Not even the extreme pro-life amendment could dampen enthusiasm.
"We’ll live to fight that battle," said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.),
a passionate supporter of reproductive freedom. "It took a hundred
years to do health care. Nothing can dim that."

Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said it was the hardest vote he’d
ever whipped. "We crossed a threshold tonight," he said. "This was a
tough deal."

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who’d fought for a stronger public
option, was fired up, too. "I’m ecstatic. I think it was great," he
said, before adding that he wasn’t happy with the Stupak amendment or
the weaker public option.


Reaction from women’s groups has been mixed.

Marcia Greenberger, Co-President of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) said:

NWLC is both gratified that the House passed this vitally important reform for women and their families, and outraged that anti-choice forces would use this major advance to subvert essential health care for women by taking away women’s ability to purchase coverage for abortion care with their own funds in the health insurance exchanges.

The NWLC will not rest until women have health care reform that meets their essential needs, including their reproductive health care needs. The Center calls on the Administration and the leadership in the House and the Senate to secure that result in the Senate and in Conference. Any other outcome is both dangerous to women’s health and unacceptable.

Page Gardner, founder and President of Women’s Voices Women Vote  (WVWV),  called passage of the House bill "a bold and historic step toward ensuring that all Americans will truly have access to quality, affordable health care.

The passage of the Affordable Health Care for America Act brings the American people one step closer to realizing the promise of a future where no one, including millions of unmarried women, is denied access to health insurance.

Unmarried women —
single, divorced, and widowed — face unique challenges in obtaining
and keeping health insurance.  With less income, jobs that often do not
offer health insurance plans, and without access to coverage provided
by the policy of a spouse, these women often face nearly insurmountable
challenges to obtaining health insurance.

Several statements focused on the cost to women of the Stupak Amendment:

Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America condemned " the adoption of the Stupak/Pitts amendment in HR 3962 this evening."

This amendment is an unacceptable addition to the health care reform bill that, if enacted, would result in women losing health benefits they have today. Simply put, the Stupak/Pitts amendment…restrict[s] women’s access to abortion coverage in the private health insurance market, undermining the ability of women to purchase private health plans that cover abortion, even if they pay for most of the premiums with their own money. This amendment reaches much further than the Hyde Amendment, which has prohibited public funding of abortion in most instances since 1977. 

Planned Parenthood serves three million women every year through its
more than 850 affiliate health centers across the country and has
worked tirelessly on behalf of those patients for affordable, quality
health care.

On behalf of the millions of women Planned Parenthood
health centers serve, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America has
no choice but to oppose HR 3962. The bill includes the Stupak/Pitts
amendment that would leave women worse off after health care reform
than they are today, violating President Obama’s promise to the
American people that no one would be forced to lose her or his present
coverage under health reform.

Debra Ness, President of the National Partnership for Women and Families stated:

Tonight’s vote in the House of Representatives in favor of the
Stupak-Pitts amendment betrays the promise of health care reform. It is
a reckless and unnecessary amendment that would endanger women’s health
and lives. It must not stand.

In voting to block private insurers from using privately paid
premiums and co-pays to cover a legal health procedure that women need,
opponents of choice are trying to use health reform to take away
coverage Americans now have. This amendment breaks the fundamental
promise of reform: that Americans will be able to keep the coverage
they have. And it ignores women’s basic reproductive health needs.

A fair compromise — worked out by Congresswoman Lois Capps —
was in place. It prohibited federal funds from being used to pay for
abortion services, but allowed plans to segregate public and private
funds so they could pay for these services with private premiums and
co-pays. There was no reason for this amendment, except to advance an
extreme ideological anti-choice agenda.

We will work tirelessly to convince lawmakers to remove this
language, and call on President Obama and leaders in both houses to
ensure that it is not in the final bill. Although the legislation
contains measures that can improve women’s health, reform that includes
this amendment would be a broken promise for women and a tainted
victory for the country.

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called House
passage of a stunning last-minute anti-choice amendment to health
reform an outrageous blow to women’s freedom and privacy — and she
vowed to fight to remove this provision as the process goes to the

The Stupak-Pitts amendment makes it virtually impossible for private
insurance companies that participate in the new system to offer
abortion coverage to women. This would have the effect of denying women
the right to use their own personal private funds to purchase an
insurance plan with abortion coverage in the new health system — a
radical departure from the status quo. Presently, more than 85 percent
of private-insurance plans cover abortion services.

The Service Employees International Union, which ran a campaign calling on Congress not to treat women as a "preexisting condition," gave an unequivocal thumbs up to the legislation and did not mention the Stupak amendment.

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