Weekly Pulse: The Stupak Setback

Lindsay Beyerstein

A clique of anti-choice Democrats in Congress joined forces with Republicans to write abortion access out of the House's health care reform bill last Saturday. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) wants to force women to choose between affordable health insurance and abortion coverage, even if they pay for abortion coverage with their own money.Pro-choice Democrats and women's health activists are up in arms over the eleventh hour deal. Ellie Smeal of Ms. Magazine denounces the Stupak amendment as a betrayal of women: Millions of poor and middle-class women would be denied abortion coverage and millions more would lose the coverage they already have, since 85 percent of private plans now cover abortion. Far from being abortion-neutral, the Stupak amendment is a giant step backward for women. It’s unacceptable. In the compromise to get the bill passed, women and their health-care rights were thrown under the bus. Yesterday, The Pulse interviewed Jodi Jacobson, political director of RH Reality Check, about the implications of the Stupak amendment for reproductive choice in America. Jacobson explained that, if language from the Stupak amendment finds its way into the final health care bill, insurance companies would be forced to eliminate all abortion coverage if they wanted to participate in any aspect of the health care reform plan. Listen to the full interview here. (Note: there's a slight delay before the audio starts.)Jacobson calls the Stupak language a "monumental setback." If an insurance plan accepts customers who take government subsidies, then nobody on that plan could have abortion coverage—not even those who were paying their whole premium out of pocket. In effect, the Stupak amendment would be "a total ban on public and private money for abortion coverage," Jacobson said.In TAPPED, Michelle Goldberg accuses the Democrats of "leaving women behind" in their rush to pass health care reform at any cost. Goldberg warns that if the amendment becomes law, Democrats will have handed the anti-abortion lobby its biggest victory since the 2003 Partial Birth Abortion Act.In the Nation, Eyal Press argues that the Stupak amendment would be an especially cruel blow to poor women: If this highly regressive amendment makes its way into the legislation that Barack Obama eventually signs, millions of less affluent women who obtain access to affordable health insurance will thus join the ranks of low-income women on Medicaid, most of whom live in states that don't cover abortion procedures. The two-tiered system that dictates who in America has "choice" (more privileged women do, less affluent women do not) will be further entrenched. Robin Marty of RH Reality Check wonders whether the Stupak amendment would apply to miscarriages as well as elective abortions. Sometimes, when a fetus dies in utero, doctors must surgically remove it. It's the same procedure as an elective termination and it has the same name: Abortion. Last month, Marty lost a much-wanted pregnancy. Doctors laid out her options: a $1500 surgery, a $40 chemical abortion, or an interminable wait to expel the dead fetus naturally. Marty chose the surgery. She worries that the Stupak amendment would take that choice away from other women.The House bill is not yet the law of the land. There is still time to strip the Stupak language out in conference (the merging process whereby the House bill is combined with whatever comes out of the Senate).But will it actually get stripped out in the senate? Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) announced that “If it isn’t clear that government money is not to be used to fund abortions, I won’t vote for it."On a conference call yesterday, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) told The Pulse that he was optimistic that a compromise could be worked out. "Ben Nelson said he wasn't going to support a bill if it isn't clear that government money won't be used to fund abortions," Specter said, "Well, we can make it clear that if someone wants to buy abortion coverage with her own money, she can do it."This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.
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