This article was originally published by the Women’s Media Center, and is republished here with permission from the author. Democratic leaders have said that the turn-around on
abortion contained in the House health-reform bill will not appear in the final
version. Gloria Feldt, a Women’s Media Center board member and former president
House Democrats broke into a paroxysm of self-congratulation
for passing a health reform bill. By embracing the Stupak-Pitts amendment,
however, they entered the women’s hall of shame. They had promised no more
limitations based on preexisting conditions. But House leadership allowed a
codicil: Except if you are a woman.
The Stupak-Pitts amendment to the health bill is a sweeping
ban on insurance coverage of abortion. It expands the 1976 Hyde amendment,
which outlaws abortion coverage by existing Federally funded programs, to
middle class women participating in the public option, even if they pay from
their own pocketbooks. Hyde began a juggernaut of restrictions on abortion and
birth control that I’d hoped the current health care debate would rectify.
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Headlines blaring, “Abortion an Obstacle to Health-Care Bill,” got it backward. And the biggest obstacle was President Obama’s approach, which meshed all too well with Speaker Pelosi’s: they are both so averse to feather-ruffling that one wonders why they entered the rough and tumble of politics in the first place. No amount of Rahm Emmanuel’s mean-guy interference could have kept this chicken’s eggs from breaking, let alone its feathers in place.
as he is, why didn’t Obama know that when you start from a position of
compromise, you’ll end up with a fragment of what you wanted, if that? The
public option is too weak to exercise serious cost-cutting control. And now
women have been sacrificed, like so much detritus, even though we are 51
percent of the population and (in case they haven’t noticed) 60
percent of Democratic
I am not convinced by after-the-fact reassurances that the
final bill will reflect the already unjust status quo via the Capps
amendment “compromise” that codifies existing restrictions. That’s because
the table for expanding prohibitions on abortion was set by the Democrats
Pelosi and I walked together on the frontline of the March for Women’s Lives in
April 2004—at 1.2 million strong, the largest civil rights protest ever
mustered in the nation’s capital, demonstrating that the majority of Americans
stood for women. But Pelosi, like many Democrats, allowed herself to be
frightened by misinterpreting Republican victories that fall.
John Kerry lost that election all by himself, in no small part by taking
increasingly equivocal positions on issues—from war and peace to abortion—that
concerned women. That Karl Rove’s grassroots machine then prevailed over
Kerry’s demoralized base shouldn’t have shocked anyone. But post-election, the
losing Democrats took the predictable circular position and started shooting at
one another. Pelosi excoriated me for blasting anti-choice Tim Roemer’s
candidacy for chair of the Democratic Party, a possibility that was one of the
first signals to me of principles gone rogue.
Democrats jubilantly regained control of the House in 2006. But in doing so
they built their own Trojan horse and rolled it right into the center of the
party’s soul. Howard Dean, who had entered the 2004
presidential race proclaiming himself the candidate from the “Democratic wing
of the Democratic Party,” became, ironically, one of the main architects of a
desperation plan to recruit any anti-choice pol who had a chance to defeat a
Some strategists, like Daily
Beast columnist Peter Beinert, assert this was the smart way for the
Democrats to gain a governing majority. But if party powers had recruited,
supported, and funded progressive women candidates at the level they wooed Blue
Dogs, they could have saved both their integrity and their majority, and they’d
be much stronger today.
said she was “breaking the marble ceiling” when she accepted the speaker’s
gavel. As sparkly-eyed and optimistic as any other
attendee, I wrote about her swearing in for the Women’s Media Center,
saying she would be smart to “spend less time cultivating the ‘Blue Dog’
Democrats and recognize the progressive women as her greatest asset.”
she didn’t get that message.
But many women in Congress did. Congresswoman Diana DeGette
(D-CO) assured the Washington Post the day after the vote: "There’s
going to be a firestorm here. Women are going to realize that a
Democratic-controlled House has passed legislation that would prohibit women
paying for abortions with their own funds. . . We’re not going to let this into
law." To back up her claim, she’s collected
41 and counting signatures from House Democrats that they will kill any
final bill retaining the Stupak amendment’s restrictions. That’s enough to
block passage of one of the cornerstones on which Barack Obama has staked his
while we must keep pointing the finger of blame at the weasely Democrats, the
fact is that the Catholic Bishops and the National Right to Life played with
the kind of hardball tactics that pro-choice advocates failed to employ. From
here out, we need a different, bolder, more proactive approach.
how do women get out from the underside of the bus and start driving it?
we cannot accept any health care reform that retreats on women’s human right to
reproductive self-determination. Second, this health reform debate is the
opportunity to revisit and excise the cancer represented by the Hyde amendment
and make women’s health care whole again (yes,
President Obama, abortion IS health care).
let’s not stop there. President Obama said during the elections that the
Freedom of Choice Act, which would guarantee women’s civil right to make our
own childbearing decisions and give us at last the right to our own lives,
would be among his top priorities. He subsequently took it off the priority
list, but we must hold him to his promise by the fire of our political
how the Democrats can send their Trojan horse packing and get back on the road
to fairness and justice for which their party stands. For if they think a
health reform bill betraying women is victory, they’ll soon find out it’s a
Pyrrhic one indeed.