After last night’s historic health care vote in the US House of Representatives, I feel a combination of relief that the (flawed but symbolically important) bill passed and fury that the ban on abortion coverage will not only remain but will remain by virtue of an executive order issued by the hand of a president who during his campaign pledged to repeal the Hyde anti-abortion coverage amendment. In my often expressed opinion, repeal of Hyde and full integration of reproductive health services including abortion is what the president and the pro-choice groups should have demanded in the first place. For if they had, we not would have ended up with this travesty for women’s health. The pro-choice women in the House fought hard, but without the president, Speaker Pelosi, and pro-choice groups standing firm behind them, they were left twisting in the wind.
Linda Lowen, who writes the Women’s Issues column at About.com, suggests that one intangible benefit to women will be a huge increase in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s stature and power. Jen Nedeau, who manages the Not Under the Bus campaign, describes a sense of betrayal shared by many—and how to move forward, in this exclusive written for the Women’s Media Center and reprinted with permission. Kindly scroll down to see one specific action you can take to help right the wrong done–and indeed the only action that can. Let me know your thoughts.
So this isn’t radical reform. But it is major reform. This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system. But it moves us decisively in the right direction. This is what change looks like.”—President Obama
So this is what change looks like? Throwing women’s rights under the bus in exchange for health care?
Something about this doesn’t feel like change. Something about this feels all too familiar. Once again, women’s rights are being used as a bargaining chip for political gain. Once again, the right to choose is not left in the hands of women, but left in the hands of male politicians who will never be faced with an unwanted pregnancy.
Yes, it is true that Speaker Nancy Pelosi worked incredibly hard to get the votes to pass the bill that now makes it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against women with higher premiums than men or deny coverage to women who have had Caesarean sections or survived domestic violence.
Yes, it is true that bill will make health care more accessible for women and families across America by controlling costs and offering a public marketplace where those without insurance can buy their own affordable coverage.
However, these very important advancements cannot disguise two major attacks on women’s choice.
The first attack was passing a bill that contained Ben Nelson’s Manager’s Amendment.
The second attack is the Executive Order from the White House reaffirming the Hyde Amendment ban on federal funding of abortion and effectively extending it beyond its current application. In the Daily Beast, Dana Goldstein discusses how the “executive order enshrined the Hyde Amendment and expanded its reach into the new private insurance exchanges created by the health-care bill.”
At the end of the day, more than 30 million uninsured American’s can now have access to health reform, but it is abundantly clear women’s health is not considered a priority.
If you are a pro-choice advocate, this is not the change we hoped to see, particularly from a Democratic President and Democratic Majority Congress.
The bill that was passed contains language that has the potential to create a nation completely divided by access to abortion. With the Nelson language intact, it is possible for abortion rights to be completely stripped from the hands of low-income women, who are disproportionately non-white, by the predominantly male-led state legislatures.
According to the Guttmacher Institute , “nearly half of all pregnancies to American women are unintended and four in 10 of these end in abortion.” Guttmacher also reports that unintended pregnancies have increased by 29 percent among poor women while decreasing 20 percent among higher-income women.
As the bill stands at this point, if a state opts out of abortion coverage in the exchange, women who cannot afford a private insurance plan would have few viable options for seeking access to abortion. That means reproductive choice is no longer left with women individually, but given to the state. After last night’s historic vote, it may feel like the health care reform battle is over. But for millions of women across America, it has really just begun.
Today CREDO launched an action taking a firm stand against anti-choice Democrats who betrayed women across America saying, “It’s time for pro-choice donors and members of Congress to stop funneling money to the anti-choice candidates via the DCCC.”
You can sign CREDO’s petition and take the momentum of ”Yes We Can” pass health care to “Yes We Can” repeal the Hyde Amendment.
It is time to finally give women across America—not just those who can afford private health care, but every woman—a real choice when it comes to their body, their destiny and their future.
The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.