At the beginning of July, I posed a somewhat rhetorical question attempting to gauge exactly how much we should give up for robust healthcare reform, asking, “If it takes selling out pro-choice advocates in order to get a healthcare system that covers everyone adequately, is that a fair trade-off?”
I got a good bashing from readers who didn’t get the point of my article that “to sacrifice low-income women for the sake of healthcare reform is a bastardization of the idea of healthcare reform as a whole.” They were so upset that anyone would even ask that question on BuzzFlash that they immediately reacted to the headline as a “stupid idea” and asked why not just bring back slavery?
Despite the inattention to detail, I did appreciate the passion of our readers on the issue. That passion may not extend to your representatives in Washington, even if you live in Santa Barbara, CA.
Less than one month after I posed that question, Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) decided that such a political calculus should be made. In explaining an amendment that she herself labels as a “compromise,” she said that the “hope was that we could continue the current ban on federal funding for abortion so the issue wouldn’t bog down the overall health reform legislation.”
Basically, the Capps Amendment to the healthcare reform bill would continue the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds from going to paying for abortion except in the cases of rape, incest or endangerment of the mother’s life. It prohibits abortion from being a procedure included under what is known as the “essential benefits package” that all plans in the exchange must provide. Instead, the amendment ensures that one plan in each region and in each benefit level must include abortion coverage and another one must explicitly exclude abortion coverage.
This is a huge compromise in more ways than I can mention here. It lends legitimacy to those who disparage abortion as something that is sinister, rather than a legal medical procedure. It elevates the convictions of religious people who do not want to pay for abortions above those of us who are pacifists or death penalty opponents and prefer our tax dollars not be spent on war and execution.
It also makes what should be a private choice the purview of the government. Why don’t we have the option to purchase a healthcare insurance plan that does not include Viagra coverage? Plus the idea of choosing a healthcare plan based on ones’ ideological priorities is a bad idea based on a false premise. After all, how many people even know if their private insurance plan covers abortion? Would these objectors be willing to pay higher premiums so that the woman who was refused abortion coverage can carry her pregnancy to term?
For these reasons and others, the Capps Amendment is a clear sacrifice for anyone concerned with reproductive — nay, women’s — rights. But hey, at least we got a robust public option and real reform for the trade-off…
Oh wait, that’s right. We got nothing except an even more watered-down bill. In fact, the Capps Amendment itself is being translated into fear-monger-ese as a “mandate” for abortion. Yes, not only is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi being burned in effigy and practically accused of requiring every pregnant woman in the country to have an abortion, but the very amendment that was put out there as a peace offering to pro-lifers is being purposefully misconstrued as a pro-abortion measure by the very people it was designed to mollify.
Now I understand why we don’t negotiate with terrorists.
The Capps Amendment does allow the secretary of Health and Human Services to decide whether abortion services not covered by the Hyde Amendment should be covered in the public option, but those abortion services must be paid for by the premiums paid by enrollees in the public option. Furthermore, the secretary cannot simply make abortion part of the essential benefits package.
Pro-life groups are mocking this idea of segregating public funds from private ones, saying that once you pay your premium to the government option, it somehow becomes taxpayer money. However, Capps notes that “while opponents of the bill’s provision make much ado about the idea of segregating funds, it’s hardly a new concept: The 17 states that currently cover abortion in their Medicaid programs already do it by only paying for those services with state dollars, which are kept separate from federal funds.”
The National Organization for Women (NOW) put out an action alert this week urging people to call their representatives to insist that no further compromises be made in terms of reproductive services included in health insurance reform:
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), the Catholic Bishops and other anti-abortion rights groups are saying that they will block health care reform if abortion services under insurance policies offered by new health exchanges are not completely excluded. Their goal is to completely eliminate ANY insurance coverage of abortion services; currently, about 90 percent of private insurance plans provide coverage.
The Capps Amendment which was adopted in committee brokered a compromise between abortion rights advocates and opponents. As is often the case with hard-won compromises, few are completely happy with the specifics — including the National Organization for Women, which maintains that a woman’s fundamental right to abortion includes open access to abortion in all public and private health care plans.
The Capps Amendment does have some support from pro-life groups. While extremists such as the Family Research Council and the National Right to Life Committee are parading around calling Capps a liar, Catholics United publicly reaffirmed support for the amendment as “pro-life.” They registered their displeasure with anti-abortion groups spreading untruths about the legislation and questioned such groups’ commitment to healthcare reform in a statement:
Despite last week’s developments, the Family Research Council has refused to discontinue a misleading television advertising campaign intended to scare viewers into opposing the health reform package. Incredibly, the Family Research Council went as far as to denounce the Capps Amendment as evidence that the current legislative proposal will fund abortions.
“The Family Research Council’s continued effort to distort the facts leads one to wonder whether the group’s true intent is to derail health care reform,” said [Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United]. “Instead of issuing misleading attacks and inciting fear, the Family Research Council would do better to support efforts aimed at implementing abortion-neutral policies in health care reform legislation.”
Just as both Catholics United and NOW observe (and as I warned numerous times this summer), the anti-choice lobby is not satisfied to keep the status quo afforded by the Hyde Amendment. Instead, they’re willing to sink healthcare reform in the effort to remove any and all coverage, public or private, for the legally-available medical service of abortion.
So getting back to the question I posed back in July: Yes, it is still wrong to trade women’s reproductive rights so that the rest of the population can have decent healthcare. The only new item we’ve learned is that not only is it wrong, but it doesn’t work.
What is far worse than being seen as a bargaining chip worth expending is to be seen as a bargaining chip to be given away for free. Now that the bargaining chip of women’s reproductive rights is in the hands of the pro-life community, they plan to use healthcare reform to take away the rights we still have.
So much for negotiating with the choice terrorists.
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