(VIDEO) Mikulski: “Universal Access to Health Care Is As ‘Pro-Life’ And ‘Whole Life’ as You Can Be”

Jodi Jacobson

Yesterday, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) took her colleague Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE)--and much of the Republican party and the anti-choice movement--"to school" in one of the most effective speeches against the Nelson (Stupak) Amendment.

Yesterday, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) took her Democratic colleague Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE)–and much of the Republican party and the anti-choice movement–"to school." 

Calling health reform that offers truly universal access both "pro-life," and "whole-life," Mikulski, by turns passionate and sardonic, made one of the most effective speeches yet against Nelson’s efforts to pass a "Stupak" amendment in the Senate’s version of the health reform bill. 

She called efforts to limit women’s ability to buy insurance policies that cover abortion care both "insulting" and "humiliating," and invoked Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Scarlet Letter in pointing to the discrimination and stigma the Stupak and Nelson amendments would perpetuate against women.  

"I truly believe that health care reform is the most important social justice vote that we will cast in this decade," said Mikulski.

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Why?  Because we are talking about providing universal access to health care, which I believe is a basic human right and should be a fundamental American right.  That’s why health reform is so important.

"I consider these principles to be ‘pro-life,’" said Mikulski, "and ‘whole life.’"

I think the health care bill we are debating is as pro-life as you can be, because what other thing helps maintain, protect, save or deal with impaired life than providing universal access to…health care?

Taking a page from ultra-conservative evangelical pastor Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Life, which, Mikulski noted, "talks not about ‘pro-life’ but ‘whole-life’ principles," she continued:

[B]eing able to see a doctor or an appropriate health care professional saves lives and I view this vote on health care reform as pro-life or whole life as anyone can cast. 

Mikulski underscored the "pro-life" values inherent in preventive care:

I believe that supporting screening for diabetes is pro-life, cervical cancer is prolife. 

But most of all, she continued:

If you want people to have healthy pregnancies, healthy childbirth, healthy babies, they need access to health care, so that’s why i say that voting for universal access to health care is as pro-life as you can be. 

Mikulski then turned to the issue of the Nelson Amendment:

[Therefore] making this debate about abortion, I believe, is misguided and wrong.  First of all, in the bill we already deal with this.  The [current bill] does not seek to change the underlying premise of the Hyde Amendment…and in fact the pending bill goes even further  than Hyde.

The current bill:

"says loudly, clearly and consistently," Mikulski underscored:

that no federal funds can be used to pay for the coverage of abortion.  And it does it by separating out funds so that no public money from federal credits or subsidies would be used for abortions.

Language in the current Senate bill, based on the Capps amendment in the original House health care bill this summer, ensures that health care plans cannot be required to cover abortion; underscores that plans can choose to cover or not cover it; and reiterates, in Mikulski’s words, "the long-standing practicve of a strong conscience clause for…indivdiual providers or institutions."

Mikulsi then took on the Nelson amendment:

Let’s go to Nelson, which is really a Senate versin of Stupak.  I believe it is unnecessary.  I believe it is unneeded.  And I believe that it’s uncalled for.  And it goes further than Hyde because it prohibits the public option from covering abortino.  It prohibits individuals receiving federal insurance subsidies from purchasing a plan that covers abortion…even if you use your own money.

The amendment also, continued Mikulski, "allows a woman to purchase an abortion rider."

Oh boy. is this supposed to be a big deal?  Is this supposed to be the kind of thing that is supposed to make us happy?

What an insulting, humiliating thing to say: If you want an abortion go buy a rider.  I think it demonizes women.  Why don’t you just go into the workplace and paint a Scarlet letter on your forehead?  Hawthorne still lives in the Nelson Amendment.

Pointing out that no woman "plans" to have an unplanned pregnancy or an abortion, Mikulski went on to ask:

How about [we] have men buy an abortion rider for the women they get pregnant?

Hmmmmm…it’s an idea to explore…requiring all men to buy abortion riders in case they cause an unintended pregnancy. 

How about it?

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Politics

NARAL President Tells Her Abortion Story at the Democratic National Convention

Ally Boguhn

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates.

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

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the story of her abortion on the stage of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) Wednesday evening in Philadelphia.

“Texas women are tough. We approach challenges with clear eyes and full hearts. To succeed in life, all we need are the tools, the trust, and the chance to chart our own path,” Hogue told the crowd on the third night of the party’s convention. “I was fortunate enough to have these things when I found out I was pregnant years ago. I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time.”

“I made the decision that was best for me — to have an abortion — and to get compassionate care at a clinic in my own community,” she continued. “Now, years later, my husband and I are parents to two incredible children.”

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Hogue noted that her experience is similar to those of women nationwide.

“About one in three American women have abortions by the age of 45, and the majority are mothers just trying to take care of the families they already have,” she said. “You see, it’s not as simple as bad girls get abortions and good girls have families. We are the same women at different times in our lives — each making decisions that are the best for us.”

As reported by Yahoo News, “Asked if she was the first to have spoken at a Democratic National Convention about having had an abortion for reasons other than a medical crisis, Hogue replied, ‘As far as I know.'”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards on Tuesday night was the first speaker at the DNC in Philadelphia to say the word “abortion” on stage, according to Vox’s Emily Crockett. 

Richards’ use of the word abortion was deliberate, and saying the word helps address the stigma that surrounds it, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Vice President of Communication Mary Alice Carter said in an interview with ThinkProgress. 

“When we talk about reproductive health, we talk about the full range of reproductive health, and that includes access to abortion. So we’re very deliberate in saying we stand up for a woman’s right to access an abortion,” Carter said.

“There is so much stigma around abortion and so many people that sit in shame and don’t talk about their abortion, and so it’s very important to have the head of Planned Parenthood say ‘abortion,’ it’s very important for any woman who’s had an abortion to say ‘abortion,’ and it’s important for us to start sharing those stories and start bringing it out of the shadows and recognizing that it’s a normal experience,” she added.

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates. In April, Clinton called out moderators for failing to ask “about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care” over the course of eight debates—though she did not use the term abortion in her condemnation.