Dear Mr. President: Abortion Is Part of Health Care

Jodi Jacobson

Today, President Obama repeated one of the most tired excuses the Democratic party has to its failure to be truly pro-choice. The famous "This is a health care bill, not an abortion bill" excuse. Mr. President: Abortion is health care. It's women's health care. And we need you to say that.

Today, President Obama, the same man who as a candidate actually promised to push for passage of the Freedom of Choice Act, repeated one of the most over-used lines by the Democratic party when it fails to be truly pro-choice.

The famous "This is a health care bill, not an abortion bill" excuse.

Here is what he said, according to Daily Kos:

President Obama said today that Congress needs to
change abortion-related language in the health care bill passed by the
House of Representatives this weekend that includes tougher
restrictions on abortion funding but said there is more work to be done
before a final piece of legislation gets to his desk.

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I laid out a very simple principle, which is this is a health care
bill, not an abortion bill,” Obama said. “And we’re not looking to
change what is the principle that has been in place for a very long
time, which is federal dollars are not used to subsidize abortions.

This "explanation" for why we don’t address the issue of choice in any number of pieces of legislation in which women’s choices are actually profoundly affected is doled out more frequently than DC parking attendants give out tickets.  (And for those who don’t live here, that is a lot.)

But here is a newsflash: Access to safe abortion is part of health care.  A critical, essential component of women’s health care. 

One-fourth of the 600,000 maternal deaths among women worldwide is due to complications of unsafe abortion.  Many times that number are made ill or disabled, or infertile due to complications of unsafe abortion.  Women unable to plan and time their pregnancies not only are likely to be less healthy themselves, they also are less likely to be able to feed, provide health care for and ensure the survival of children they do bear.  In some countries, such as Peru, complications of unsafe abortion are the single greatest cause of maternal death.  In this country, complications of unsafe abortion were indeed a leading cause of maternal death before abortion became legal.

So unless you consider women not to be human, or consider health to be of concern only to men (and yes, I am aware many of you feel this is the case), abortion is a health care issue.

And by definition, the health reform bill is indeed an abortion bill as much as it is a cancer bill, a heart disease bill, a common cold bill or a bill for male erectile dysfunction (treatment of which, is, of course, included under the House bill).

In fact, the Republicans get this connection far more than do the Democrats, who keep trying to campaign and raise money on "pro-choice" platforms, but who apparently feel increasingly comfortable throwing off those cloaks as soon as they get in office, as did Obama and today in his press conference, and Senator Claire McCaskill on MSNBC’s early talk show, Morning Joe.

The Democrats’ increasingly anemic response to the issue of choice is self-fulfilling.  The more afraid they get of standing up for their (supposed) principles, the more they obfuscate on the issue of choice. 

The more they obfuscate, the less credibliity they have with their supporters–the people that actually put them into office–and the more the ultra-right conservative Republicans (and there no longer is another kind) smell blood and become more emboldened about threatening to hold them hostage on the issue. 

The President has exacerbated this by his weak approach to the issue from the beginning of his time in office: Rather than making clear he was as pro-choice in office as he was on the campaign trail, he started a round of "Common Ground" meetings ostensibly intended to find "common ground" on abortion issues.  The fact is: There is no common ground between those who believe in science, evidence, and human rights and conservative religious groups like the Catholic Bishops–who are clearly very powerful in Congress but who object both to abortion and to contraception.  It is in fact an issue on which someone has to take the power to lead.  But the more Obama tries to be Mr. Conciliation, the more time lapses during which those who have no intention and have had no intention in finding "common ground" to make gains on their anti-choice agenda in Congress.  

The main result has been that Obama has lost so much ground unnecessarily he has pissed off the people who put him in office.  If this continues, I’d like to see Pennsylvania and Virginia in the next election…

The President needs to show a little spine.  Today he said:

"[T]he bill cannot change the status quo."

"There are strong feelings on both sides” about an amendment passed on
Saturday and added to the legislation, “and what that tells me is that
there needs to be some more work before we get to the point where we’re
not changing the status quo.”

In an exclusive television interview in the Map Rom of the White
House, Obama told ABC News’ Jake Tapper that he was confident that the
final legislation will ensure that “neither side feels that it’s being

I want to make sure that the provision that emerges meets that test
— that we are not in some way sneaking in funding for abortions, but,
on the other hand, that we’re not restricting women’s insurance
choices,” he said.

Moreover, today, according to the Hill, Robert Gibbs completely side-stepped the question about the Stupak Amendment when asked during today’s press conference and indicated the President "wasn’t taking sides."

Why not? Isn’t that why we elected him?  Because he had a "side" on this issue?

Why won’t the President come out and say he opposes it?  Why won’t he underscore the very values he espoused on the campaign trail?  Why does he feel he needs to appease any of the far right on this?

Mr. President: Abortion is health care.  And until you understand and can say that, we are going to continue to have a problem passing this bill.


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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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