…by Meg White
The place Meg puts the stuff she wrote
Can Any Self-Respecting, Progressive, Pro-Choice Woman Vote for the House Healthcare Bill?
Categories: Commentary, Healthcare

by Meg White

The news on the passage of HR 3962, a.k.a. the “Affordable Health Care for America Act,” in the House this weekend brought me to something of a “What Would Jesus Do?” moment (without the Jesus, of course). preexisitng conditions

Much has been made of the 39 Democrats who voted “no” on the healthcare overhaul bill. Perhaps the most interesting case is that of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). Kucinich’s problem with the bill was far removed from the concerns of the Blue Dogs who joined him in voting no. In a statement released after voting against the passage of the bill, Kucinich said that denying states the option of adopting a single-payer system and the collapse of a robust public option were two turning points in his support for the bill:

HR 3962 would put the government in the role of accelerating the privatization of health care.  In HR 3962, the government is requiring at least 21 million Americans to buy private health insurance from the very industry that causes costs to be so high, which will result in at least $70 billion in new annual revenue, much of which is coming from taxpayers.  This inevitably will lead to even more costs, more subsidies, and higher profits for insurance companies — a bailout under a blue cross.

As a tireless advocate for single-payer healthcare, Kucinich decided to take a stand, and I respect that. Whether or not his brave stand was cleared with the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi beforehand, at least he was treating the vote as what it should be in an ideal world: a manifestation of one’s core beliefs. That got me thinking: How would I have voted if I were in Congress this past Saturday night?

Frankly, the idealist in me despises this bill for all it represents. It is a sell out to insurance companies and a de facto admission of incompetence by a government that seems convinced it is incapable of administering anything larger than a bathtub.

But the idealist in me would never get elected, and the bill was better than nothing. An end to lifetime limits and preexisting conditions will mean a continuum of care for many who were doomed to be uninsurable. Also, ending the sexist practice of charging women more for health insurance simply because they use healthcare services more would be quite welcome. In a way, accomplishing cheaper preventive care and expanded coverage for children and disabled people while still reducing the deficit is an easy sell.

Plus, if we’re really going to pretend I’m an elected official, let’s be honest: If a healthcare bill does not pass, the DNC is going to have a lot of trouble convincing voters that it deserves support next year and in 2012. That, combined with the razor-thin margin (220-215) by which this bill passed Saturday night, means the prospect of me being fake-reelected next year would be at risk with a “no” vote.

So, I’d say voting for HR 3962 was better than the alternative — up until this weekend at least. I probably would have held my nose and followed the cue of Pelosi. That is, until she sold herself, myself and every other civil rights-minded woman in the country down the river with the Stupak Amendment.

As I pointed out last week, the House bill already compromised the hell out of women’s reproductive rights with the Capps Amendment. The Capps Amendment effectively cemented the Hyde Amendment, a 30-year-old measure the National Organization for Women (NOW) terms “abusive.” The Capps Amendment forced the exchange to contain at least one private insurance option that specifically excluded abortion services as well another which expressly included it, in every market. But House Democrats allowed groups from the religious right to shamefully spin the Capps compromise into an abortion mandate by lying about it.

This wasn’t enough for Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), whose amendment was added to the bill this weekend. In the proposed exchange, some people would get government subsidies in order to purchase private plans. The new amendment would ban such funding for any private plan that offers abortion services. That would effectively, according to NOW:

  • Prevent women receiving tax subsidies from using their own money to purchase private insurance that covers abortion;
  • Prevent women participating in the public health insurance exchange, administered by private insurance companies, from using 100 percent of their own money to purchase private insurance that covers abortion;
  • Prevent low-income women from accessing abortion entirely, in many cases.

If so few people are allowed to buy insurance which covers this single, legal procedure, why would insurance companies bother to offer it? Indications are that companies would begin to offer insurance riders to cover the unexpected procedure, the concept of which would be funny if they weren’t actually serious about it.

The plan is clearly to continue what anti-choice advocates have been working toward for years now. Instead of going to the courts to try and get Roe v. Wade overturned, they’re working to restrict access to abortion services. If there are very, very few clinics or doctors that offer abortion, and virtually no insurance option for covering the service (which can cost upwards of $1,000), the practice can be easily relegated to the rich, just like it was in the good ol’ days.

And this is where I draw the line. Or where I would draw it, if my imaginary vote in the House meant anything. Even if it counted, the bill still would have passed on Saturday.

Pelosi undoubtedly would have tried to minimize my distaste for the bill by suggesting that the Stupak Amendment will be stripped out in the Senate or in the conference process. And that might have worked on me back in the spring. But the last few months have taught me that the Democratic leadership in Washington has been willing to sell out progressives on everything from torture to war to reform to the environment to gay rights. Why should I believe anything different on reproductive rights?

And if the Capps Amendment tells me anything, it’s that giving the anti-choice lobby an inch means they’ll take you a mile in the wrong direction. These people will stop at nothing to get what they want. To them, the “rights” of a fetus are far more important than the 45,000 Americans who die every year because they don’t have health insurance. Why will that argument be any different in the Senate?

On National Public Radio (NPR) this morning, news analyst Cokie Roberts predicted that the inclusion of the Stupak Amendment would actually help the bill pass more easily in the Senate, rather than risk getting stripped out.

“The pro-choice Democrats who voted for the bill are holding their noses, hoping the anti-abortion language might go away in the Senate. I think they have a slim reed to lean on. I can’t imagine, in the end though, that they don’t eventually go ahead and vote for a healthcare coverage bill,” Roberts said. “House members are nervous… and the Senate is even more nervous. As you just heard from Julie [Rovner, NPR health policy correspondent], you know, a higher percentage of senators represent heterogeneous constituencies, and it’s a problem for them.”

Clearly, there’s no way to know exactly what healthcare reform will mean for women until the bill is on President Obama’s desk. But as it stands now, the Stupak Amendment is a final straw for me. And while I don’t actually have a vote in the House of Representatives, I do have a vote in Illinois’ 5th Congressional District.

A district that was up until this year represented by Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, the three-party special election there was rocked by what one local columnist called “voter rebellion.” While the winner, Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley, spoke out and voted against the Stupak Amendment, he was one of the 220 members voting for HR 3962 in the end.

My representative in Congress before moving this summer was Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). She also voted for the final bill despite her misgivings about the Stupak Amendment, but according to CBS, her continued support for the bill is far from assured:

[Schakowsky] is making it clear to Democratic leadership that she will not be so forgiving in the next round. She says if the bill comes out of conference with the Stupak language still in the bill, she will vote no. Other members of the Caucus indicated they would do the same, but some could still peel off if the Stupak amendment passes.

Can we hold this self-respecting, progressive, pro-choice woman to her word? I hope so.

But in the end, the only self-respecting, progressive, pro-choice woman I can count on is myself. Obviously, the way I vote in elections is not exclusively ruled by how my representatives vote on women’s rights. But it’s more important than Pelosi et al. seem to think it will be, both now and in 2010.


Image courtesy of The National Women’s Law Center.

Originally published at BuzzFlash.com.

Comments are closed.