illustration by twolf1

Following the passage of the House health care bill, the outcry against Bart Stupak’s amendment from pro-choice members of Congress was stentorious. Rep. Diana DeGette and Rep. Louise Slaughter co-authored a letter signed by 41 members of Congress, which says quite clearly:

We will not vote for a conference report that contains language that restricts women’s right to choose any further than current law.

That seems pretty straight forward   DeGette and Slaughter won’t say who signed the letter, though Jan Schakowsky, Mike Capuano,  Mike Quigley, Carolyn Maloney, Judy Chu and Betsy Markey have all said that they did.

Jane Harman, Ann Kirkpatrick, Mary Jo Kilroy, Gabby Giffords, Debbie Halvorsen, Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin, Suzanne Kosmas, Carol-Shea Porter, Dina Titus, Rosa DeLauro, Shelley Berkeley, Tammy Baldwin and Chellie Pingree have all raked in big dollars from rich pro-choice donors over the years by pledging to defend a woman’s right to choose with their dying breath. They just don’t want to say whether they signed the letter or not.

So, does the language in the Senate bill negotiated to make Ben Nelson happy “restrict a woman’s right to choose any further than current law?”  The answer is an unqualified “yes.” Let’s review:

  • It allows states to opt out of allowing plans to cover abortion in the insurance exchanges, a clear violation of Roe v. Wade. Since some state medicaid programs cover abortion as long as it is paid for with state money, the Hyde amendment (current law) obviously does allow insurance to cover abortion as long as it is paid through a separate non-federal funds.
  • It prohibits insurance companies by law from taking into account cost savings when estimating the costs of abortion care, which raises premiums, thus limiting access
  • It includes “conscience clause” language that protects both individuals and entities that refuse to provide, pay for, provide coverage for, or refer for abortion.

Choice is already in grave danger with the current radical Supreme Court majority, and every time Congress tinkers with this, it just creates another opportunity for the Supremes to whittle away or reverse Roe v. Wade.

The bottom line:  the Senate bill would deal a bigger blow to abortion rights in this country than anything George Bush ever signed into law.

NOW President Terry O’Neill called the Senate bill “a health insurance bill for half the population and a sweeping anti-abortion law for the rest of us.”

Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards said the Senate language would leave “tens of millions of women without abortion coverage,” and called it “the most significant restriction in access to abortion coverage in the nearly 35 years since the U.S. Congress first adopted the Hyde Amendment.”  She condemned the bill, saying “it is a sad day when women’s health is traded away for one vote.”

An analysis done by George Washington University’s School of Public Health says “because the amendment reaches the design of the product itself, it extends beyond the Hyde Amendment.”

NARAL’s called the abortion restriction in the Senate bill a “dangerous provision.  NARAL President Nancy Keenan called it “outrageous”  and said “the language regarding abortion coverage comes at too high a price for reproductive health. Thus, we must oppose this new Nelson language.”

Good veal pen apparachicks that they are, however, neither NARAL nor Planned Parenthood scored either the House or the Senate bill — making a complete mockery of their entire scorecard system.  The anti-abortion groups certainly did.  I guess Congress knows who means business.

Put me down with Newsweek’s Sarah Kliff, who says “we hate this compromise.”

But Nancy Pelosi has said that the language in the Senate bill regarding abortion will not change in the House bill she puts forward on Monday.  And Louise Slaughter, co-author of the pro-choice letter, is proposing a “solution” whereby the House votes to deem the Senate bill “automatically passed” once they pass a “corrections” bill.  So it appears the head of the pro-choice caucus is actively facilitating passage of Ben Nelson’s attack on women’s reproductive rights.

Despite what Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray said when they told Planned Parenthood and NARAL to get stuffed, the Senate language is not “just Hyde.”  As the George Washington University analysis explicitly states, it’s far worse than Hyde.  Let’s stop pretending that simply getting Bart Stupak out of the picture is suddenly some kind of sweeping victory for choice.

So I only have one question.

Will DeGette, Slaughter, Schakowsky and other pro-choice members of the House keep their promise to protect a woman’s right to choose, or will they sell them out so the Democrats can get a “win” on a health care bill that will do nothing until 2014 but send the stocks of unregulated insurance monopolies soaring?