Bittersweet victories, choice, and what you can do

Saturday night, by a five-vote margin, the House of Representatives passed health care reform legislation. It’s an incredible victory — Americans desperately need health care reform, and this bill is a step in the right direction. It means that millions of uninsured and under-insured people will be able to go to the doctor when they get sick, and will be able to get treatment when they need it. It means an end to gender-based insurance ratings; it means an end to listing pregnancy, c-section, rape and domestic violence as pre-existing conditions; it means maternity coverage. Those are fantastic victories.

But they came at a price — and as usual, women paid. As Ann put it, It’s pretty fucking cramped underneath this bus, what with 50% of Americans down here. The Stupak amendment to the health care bill, which blocks even private insurance companies from covering abortion services, passed — with 64 Democrats supporting it. You can read their names here. Thirty-nine Democrats voted against health care reform. The majority of those Democrats also voted for the Stupak amendment.

That’s right: There were 21 Democrats who voted to kill the health care bill, but who also voted for an anti-choice amendment to attach to that bill. If any Democrats need to be taken out in the next primary cycle — besides Stupak — it’s these 21.

I’m happy that a health care bill passed in the house. But checking my email Saturday morning and getting word about the Stupak amendment felt like a gut-punch. Spending the afternoon listening to the floor debates, and then watching the votes tick in, was sickening. I don’t envy Nancy Pelosi’s position, and I don’t actually fault her for putting the amendment up for a vote — but I do fault the anti-choice Democrats who voted for it. I especially fault Rep. Stupak, who is a Democrat himself. It’s one thing to be a pro-life Dem who supports lowering the abortion rate through contraception access and sexual health education (oh, and comprehensive health care reform), but who doesn’t need to punish women. It’s quite another to sponsor a bill that strips health care from women in the name of “pro-life” politics. Of course, Stupak and his co-sponsor, Joe Pitts, are no strangers to compromising women’s lives in the name of life:

The amendment, named for Representatives Bart Stupak, D-Mich, and Joe Pitts, R-Penn. Stupak is a so-called “Democrat for Life;” Pitts has been a dogged supporter of failed abstinence-only policies, domestically and internationally, and was among those who succeeded in adding language forbidding the provision of contraceptive supplies for HIV-positive women in US global AIDS funding.

Bravo, really guys.

Reproductive health care is health care. And thanks to spineless, misogynist Democrats, women are not going to get the care they need. Beyond that, this is just another example of a party reliant on women to win elections throwing women under the bus as soon as our needs become inconvenient. As Ann says:

[Liberal dudes will] be explaining that it’s not a big deal because the Stupak amendment can be stripped out by the conference committee (which I very much hope it will, but am not holding my breath) and because there are potential loopholes (though I have yet to hear a convincing one).

On some level, I don’t care about the nitty-gritty details of this amendment. This isn’t just about how the money is allocated or what workarounds exist. This has me so incredibly infuriated because it further segregates abortion as something different, off the menu of regular health care. It is a huge backward step in the battle to convey — not just politically, but to women in their everyday lives — that reproductive health care is normal and necessary, and must be there if (or, more accurately, when) you need it.

This also sets apart women’s rights from the Democratic/progressive/whatever agenda. As something expendable. But fundamental rights for women are not peripheral. They are core. And not just because of so-called “progressive” values. In a political sense, too: Seeing as how the Democratic party relies on women voters to win elections, you would think they would have come around to this no-brainer by now.

Yes, we got hosed.

I’m also not confident that this will be taken out. For that to happen, the Senate could not include the same restrictions in their version of the bill — and with Democrats like Bob Casey and Ben Nelson in the Senate, and with pro-choice senators like Claire McCaskill shrugging their shoulders, I think the chances of similar language not being adopted is slim. White House reaction has been mixed — first they sounded like they weren’t touching this one with a ten-foot pole, but now Obama has issued a statement saying that women’s insurance choices shouldn’t be restricted.

Who knows — maybe this will all work out. But that doesn’t negate the fact that 64 House Democrats voted for the Stupak amendment; it doesn’t negate the fact that a Democrat introduced it; it doesn’t negate the fact that a whole lot of liberals looked the other way.

But what’s really chapping my hide today — almost as much as the amendment itself — is the number of “progressive” dudes who have lectured me in the past 24 hours on How This All Works, and the number of progressive dudes who have just stayed silent. I’m apparently not the only one. Thanks, guys. Glad to know that women’s health care isn’t really health care, or isn’t part of the “big picture.”

So what can we do? A few things. Put pressure on your senator to only support a health care bill if it maintains the legal status quo on abortion — that’s especially important if you live in a state with an anti-choice or middling senator. Find out how your representative voted on Stupak and call their office, either to thank them or to tell them that you’ll be supporting a pro-choice democrat in the next primary. Call Stupak’s office at 906-863-2800: Tell him that you will be supporting a pro-choice primary challenger, and that you’re appalled at his amendment. Donate to the National Network of Abortion Funds — they’re needed more than ever. Sign this letter to Nancy Pelosi.

Other ideas?


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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13 Responses to Bittersweet victories, choice, and what you can do

  1. Cha-Cha says:

    Oh. My. Goddess.

    Every single “progressive” man I have talked to about this today told me something along the lines of how they had “mixed feelings” about abortion anyway, and therefore, they didn’t really have a problem with laws that make the procedure less accessible.

    And I feel like, I have been there for these assholes on foreign policy issues, I’ve busted ass on local neighborhood issues, I’ve been there during the elections, local state and national, I’ve been there just about every damn time they need me.

    But when it’s my body that’s under the bus, where are those progressive dudes in my community? Far away, not with me, on the other side of the fence.

    Today, the saddest part is not how betrayed I feel by Congress.

    The saddest part is how betrayed I feel by people I thought were comrades.

  2. Hot Tramp says:

    I think I don’t understand. Jill, you wrote that the amendment “blocks even private insurance companies from covering abortion services,” but I don’t see that in the amendment. I see that the amendment prohibits abortion coverage under the public option, and prohibits people receiving the credit thingies from using those credits to buy insurance that covers abortion services. Private insurance companies can still cover abortion services if they want to, yes?

  3. Sheelzebub says:

    Hot Tramp, this amendment would take away existing coverage women are already getting, and would make it so difficult for insurance companies to offer abortion coverage that they would likely just drop it. This amendment states that any woman gets a federal subsidy cannot get abortion coverage. Insurance companies would have to offer two versions of their plans, one with coverage and one without, but the hassle involved in that (and in figuring out who gets subsidies, etc.) would be enough to encourage them to just drop the coverage across the board. Not to mention the fact that the “rider” coverage is non-existent, and out of financial reach for many of these women. If you get a subsidy, chances are, you cannot afford to pay for an abortion or the premiums for a “rider” policy out of pocket anyway, so the most vulnerable women are getting fucked over.

    From the NARAL:

    * The Stupak-Pitts amendment forbids any plan offering abortion coverage in the new system from accepting even one subsidized customer. Since more than 80 percent of the participants in the exchange will be subsidized, it seems certain that all health plans will seek and accept these individuals. In other words, the Stupak-Pitts amendment forces plans in the exchange to make a difficult choice: either offer their product to 80 percent of consumers in the marketplace or offer abortion services in their benefits package. It seems clear which choice they will make.
    * Stupak-Pitts supporters claim that women who require subsidies to help pay for their insurance plan will have abortion access through the option of purchasing a “rider,” but this is a false promise. According to the respected National Women’s Law Center, the five states that require a separate rider for abortion coverage, there is no evidence that plans offer these riders. In fact, in North Dakota, which has this policy, the private plan that holds the state’s overwhelming share of the health-insurance market (91 percent) does not offer such a rider. Furthermore, the state insurance department has no record of abortion riders from any of the five leading individual insurance plans from at least the past decade. Nothing in this amendment would ensure that rider policies are available or affordable to the more than 80 percent of individuals who will receive federal subsidies in order to help purchase coverage in the new exchange.

  4. Hot Tramp says:

    Okay, thanks for clarifying.

  5. Pingback: On the Stupak-Pitts amendment to the health care bill « I am the Lizard Queen!

  6. NinaG says:

    This is a victory for insurance companies. We will be mandated to have insurance (purchased on our own or through or employers). The price for health insurance is going to skyrocket. Two Democrats (Davis – AL; Kucinich – OH) opposed the healthcare bill for progressive reasons; hopefully they’ll push for single payer legislation or something much better than this.

  7. Karisa says:

    I absolutely agree that Stupak-Pitts is infuriating and disgusting and am equally appalled that SO many Dems voted for it. Those 21 need to go INDEED! Was watching Rachel Maddow last night (who did a really good segment explaining what Sheelzebub just clarified above) and she was at first calling out Claire McCaskill specifically because of that HuffPo article you link to. But later in the show she had to update that Senator McCaskill now seems to be against Stupak-Pitts. She twittered about it and I know, it’s Twitter, tad silly, but it seems that maybe early in the day on Mon she’s wasn’t 100% informed on what the amendment would do. Later Mon she tweeted “Oppose Stupak.Don’t think we should change current law which is no public $ for abortions,but amndmt goes too far limitng private funds too” and her next 3 consecutive tweets from Mon night thru this morning kept up the same promise:
    “@jenlabarbera It’s too early to say,We all need to keep talking and working toward a good bill.I hope it’s not in it and will vote that way.”
    “Asked this morning my opinion on whether Stupak amndmnt would kill the bill(said prob no) and NOT asked my opinion of the amndmnt.Im opposed”
    “@hb4president That IS the current law which no one is trying to change. Longstanding Hyde federal law= no public $ for abortions.”
    I just think this is more evidence that this amendment clearly goes WAY too far and hope that like Senator McCaskill, some moderate Dem Senators will see that and oppose it.

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  9. JenniferP says:

    I agree with all of your steps of things we can do, plus one more:

    I would like to explain How It All Works to every dude in America, with a series of questions followed by a Lysistrata-type protest:

    Q: “Did a lady make you in her belly?”
    A: “Yes.”
    Q: “Then you had better care about women’s health and reproductive health.”

    Q: Do you like having sex with women?
    A: Yes
    Q: Do you want to make a baby every time you do that?
    A: No
    Q: Then you had better care about women’s health and reproductive health.

    I live in Illinois and am not represented by Stupak traitors, but I wonder what would happen if women, especially young progressive women, stopped fucking those young progressive men of ours until they donated some money and made a few phone calls themselves. “Honey, I know you’d like to explain politics to me again, but believe me when I say that I just won’t be in the mood until this amendment is killed.”

  10. dasha says:

    Sex protests work.

  11. jennygadget says:

    my congressperson was one of the ones who voted for the amendment, but for reform. I am still more than happy to help take him down, though.

    Problem is, this is the purple part of CA, the part where most of my co-workers are also of the opinion that abortion is icky – possibly birth control too. Clearly I need to do some research; I’m sure there has got to be other ways in which the amendment screws women over.

  12. Pingback: Jen’s Den of Iniquity » the view from under the bus

  13. Gabrielle says:

    I’m going to write a letter. I have mixed feelings about abortion too, but I still want the RIGHT. God. And you know what–this effects the lower class citizens most of all, the ones who won’t be able to afford a good doctor. Lower class citizens are more likely to have problems with pregnancy, adoption, plus you hear all these news stories about parent’s leaving their kids under their beds you think a lot of people really should NOT be having kids in the first place. So if you get pregnant then I guess you’re doomed. What a bunch of last minute STUPIDITY.

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