Last night, the House of Representatives passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act, which included an amendment forced by Reps. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Joseph Pitts (R-PA), one of the most vociferous opponents of legal abortion in the House. By appeasing Stupak (and the 63 other Democrats who voted for the amendment, 39 of whom 23 of whom went on to vote against the overall bill), the House leadership secured passage of the overall bill, but at a cost to womens’ reproductive health.
The amendment would, according to the statement of Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards condemning the amendment’s passage, “result in women losing health benefits they have today. Simply put, the Stupak/Pitts amendment would restrict women’s access to abortion coverage in the private health insurance market, undermining the ability of women to purchase private health plans that cover abortion, even if they pay for most of the premiums with their own money. This amendment reaches much further than the Hyde Amendment, which has prohibited public funding of abortion in most instances since 1977.”
A great deal of press coverage has focused on the advocacy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in forcing the Democrats’ hands. The bishops were not alone, though; they worked in tandem with the Stop the Abortion Mandate coalition, a group of religious right advocacy and astroturf groups that managed to force the Democratic Party to do its bidding as if it were the Republican Party of the Bush era. (So much for the religious right being dead, right?)
As I reported here last week, the bishops do not even represent the majority of American Catholics, much less the American public.
Catholics for Choice’s Jon O’Brien issued the following statement this morning:
Behavior in recent weeks tells us and the American voters a lot about core values. We in the prochoice community stayed true to our core values, seeking to overcome the struggles ordinary Americans have making ends meet. These struggles mean that many cannot afford basic healthcare or have to choose between maintaining their health and paying for other basic necessities. The antichoice lobby, with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Office of Prolife Activities at the helm, has shown that it is willing to stop at nothing to ensure that its own views, which are shared by very few Americans, held sway. This lobby, aided by the 64 Democrats who voted to insert unfounded red herrings into a critical life-and-death debate over the basic right of access to healthcare, exploited the vulnerabilities of the Democratic Party.
This is only the first salvo in the bishops’ campaign against women’s health. Just imagine for a moment what healthcare will look like when the bishops are finished. There will be absolutely no access to abortion-even in cases of rape or incest. Women will be detained in prison if it is thought they want to travel abroad for an abortion. There will be no IVF. No contraception. No treatment for ectopic pregnancy or medical anomalies during pregnancy. No respect for your advance medical directives and no use of cures gained through stem-cell research. There will be nothing that doesn’t meet the myriad litmus tests prescribed by a small group of men who don’t represent American Catholics, let alone the America populace.
We hope that, as this struggle continues, Congress realizes that those who want to destroy the possibility of meaningful healthcare reform may have employed good lobbyists, but ultimately the voters will take down all those who betray the needs of the people for short-term political gains. President Obama was elected just one short year ago on a prochoice ticket. If the electorate sees that a woman’s right to choose is not a core value but simply a bargaining chip to be laid on the table when the going gets tough, there will be a price to pay.
We call on the Democratic leadership and all of our elected representatives to put forward healthcare reform that can be endorsed by the American people, not just the US bishops.
The American Civil Liberties Union last night similarly condemned the Stupak-Pitts amendment:
“Today’s vote in the House of Representatives in favor of the Pitts-Stupak amendment to deny women access to abortion in health care reform legislation is a direct attack on women’s right to make private health care decisions,” said Vania Leveille. “By prohibiting individuals who receive federal subsidies from purchasing private insurance plans that provide abortion care, even when they contribute to the cost with their own funds, members of the House have grossly distorted the meaning of health care reform.”
“The anti-abortion agenda is now in full view,” said Louise Melling, Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “They have hidden behind the guise of prohibiting public funding for abortion but this amendment goes far beyond that. Additionally, the assertion in Congressman Stupak’s amendment that women should purchase a separate rider to receive abortion coverage is illogical and demonstrates a callous and regrettable disregard for the reality of women’s lives. No woman plans for an unintended or medically catastrophic pregnancy. This is too bitter a pill for us to swallow.”