Catholic Pro-Choice Leader: Democratic Party Has “Turned Its Back” On Poor Women

Catholics for Choice, which supports the health care reform reconciliation bill, has harsh words for Democrats who were able to garner sufficient congressional votes only by restricting abortion access: Democrats have betrayed poor and disenfranchised women.

Jon O’Brien, the organization’s president, told me this morning that “the Democratic Party has absolutely failed dismally to uphold its own party platform that claims they are the party of choice and the party on the side of women.” Party leaders are too beholden to political strategists, says O’Brien, which he says “raises real questions about how people will perceive the party in the future from the perspective of standing up for womens’ rights in this country.”

Last summer, after anti-choice activists and legislators first raised a stink about the possibility that federal funds would cover abortions under health care reform, Democratic Party leaders kept using the term “maintain the status quo” to explain how they would deal with the issue. “Maintain the status quo” was code for “apply the Hyde Amendment.” Although pro-choice groups believe the Hyde Amendment is unjust and unfair, they agreed to this “status quo” in order to get health care reform passed.

But now, under the Senate version of the bill — still unreasonably opposed by the right — “the status quo has not been preserved,” said O’Brien. He said that President Obama had promised pro-choice groups “that no one would be worse off as a result of health care reform.” But, he continued, “believe me, women are worse off with regard to the right to choose. Not all women, naturally, if it were all women, there would be a major electoral price to pay. It’s the poor women and the dispossessed. That the Democratic Party has turned its back on those women to save the skin of the party is shocking.”

That the pro-choice community agreed to “maintain the status quo” with Hyde last summer demonstrates its reasonableness, said O’Brien. “We wanted a reasonable position, we didn’t want to see our issues and people we serve undermined . . . . we were very reasonable — we wanted health care reform, but didn’t want to burn it by pushing own agenda.” That position, O’Brien said, was, ethically correct and shows that the pro-choice community isn’t “extremist” (in contrast to the bishops).

The problem with the Democrats caving to the lobbying of the Catholic bishops on the eve of the passage of the House bill last fall, said O’Brien, “was not just in the power of bishops — it’s the weakness inherent in Democratic Party.”

But now, says O’Brien, there is a renewed interest in his organization and in the pro-choice community in working to educate the public about the injustice of the Hyde Amendment. He said Catholics for Choice and some other pro-choice organizations “have a renewed commitment to repealing Hyde . . .  far from being a defeat, we see this as a focus . . . to win justice for these women who have been disinherited and mistreated by the political system and political parties.”

Will that be part of the Democratic Party’s “faith outreach?” So far “faith” for the Democrats has cast a pretty narrow net that doesn’t encompass the “people of faith” who support reproductive rights and would support a repeal of Hyde.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email