Historic Health Care Vote Leaves Women Feeling Shortchanged

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.


  1. Aletha on March 23, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Sometimes I really hate it when one of my predictions comes true. The President and his party have made their priorities all too clear. When enough women realize this betrayal is part of a consistent pattern, perhaps then Democrats will be forced to realize women are one constituency that cannot be taken for granted forever.

    By the way, I linked to your Trojan Horse post over at the new Ms. Blog.

  2. Gloria Feldt on March 23, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    I know what you mean, Aletha.

    I am convinced that the first thing is for women to realize the power we have. We have too little sense of our own capacity to take charge and make change. And until we are willing to do that, we will continue to get the short end of the stick, even when a woman like Nancy Pelosi, who owes everything to the rise of progressive women to her own rise in politics, is in charge. The drag of co-option is so strong. The history of gender violence is so deeply ingrained. The fear of not being liked and allowed to pay the men’s game is so intense. But we are at a moment when all that can change–if we take it on, as you do.

    Thanks for the link on MS.

  3. Gloria Feldt on March 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Morrenin Jovan Byars on Facebook
    sad, but true, Mrs. Feldt. I hope that someone in the Pro-Choice Caucus introduces a bill repealing Hyde. Also, the Freedom of Choice Amendment is needed for our Constitution.

  4. Aletha on March 24, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    I hear you, Gloria. What puzzles me is what ails women in this country. Women all over the world are rebelling, asserting their power, often in the face of repression hard for modern Western women to imagine. Here, women get angry, but it all seems to get lost in infighting or resignation. It was not always like this, otherwise US women would never have won the right to vote. It almost seems like US women had a greater sense of power when we actually had virtually no rights and had to fight for every inch of progress. Now it seems like we have to spend all our energy on the defensive, running as hard as we can just to stay in the same place, while the backlash slowly and inexorably takes its toll, wearing us down as we take a step forward, only to be pushed two steps backwards. What really grates on me is that now it is our supposed allies, Democrats, doing the pushing. The Democratic Party would be nowhere without the loyalty of women, and what does it do to deserve it? Yeah, Obama put women in prominent positions in his cabinet, but so did Bush. Is that just tokenism, that old trick to co-opt us, allowing some women to play in the manly game of politics? I would expect that from the likes of Bush, but Obama? What gives with that executive order enshrining the Hyde Amendment? Was his professed support for the Freedom of Choice Act just hype, another campaign promise meant to be broken once a conflict with a higher priority manifested?

  5. Gloria Feldt on March 24, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    Aletha, I think you have nailed the problem. What remains of the organized U.S. women’s movement is big and rich, with plenty of potential power but they are still acting out old paradigms. Outrage at attacks but few proactive initiatives to set the agenda and take the politics of the country to a more positive and just place. And co-option is rampant. They think access equals influence when nothing could be farther from the truth. It makes you soft. When you have little real power, you are forced to clarify your values and fight for what you believe in your gut. There are risks involved, and you know you must be prepared to take them for your cause. Your resolve has to be made of steel. When you are in the halls of power, it’s is easy to go soft, get co-opted and corrupted. In the case of abortion coverage, plain and simple, it came down to money. With enough money for other reproductive health and family planning services in the bill, it became easier and easier for the pro-choice groups to back off on abortion coverage. To throw the pinch of incense into the fire as an offering even though they don’t believe in what it stands for and it violates their principles, in order to save their own skins.

  6. Aletha on April 14, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    It is said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but not when it comes from a spammer! I see stuff like that all the time in the spam queue for my blog. Do these people have nothing better to do with their time?

    I have never understood why the big feminist organizations put up with the perfidy of the Democratic Party, but at least NOW President Terry O’Neill issued a rather stern denunciation of the health insurance reform bill.

  7. Gloria Feldt on April 15, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    I imagine those spammers are paid for getting some back links posted.
    At any rate, I know I need to clean them out but that requires mes to go into an edit mode that is almost beyond my technical capabilities.

    I also don’t know why the women’s groups don’t make more demands of the Democratic party. NOW’s statement was great but after the fact it doesn’t do much good. Where were they all at the beginning when they should have been threatening to break knees of anyone who wouldn’t vote to eliminate the Hyde amendment, never mind voting for the foolish Capps “compromise.”

  8. Aletha on April 16, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    Perhaps mainstream feminist groups, being mainstream, have fallen for the fatalistic lie that influencing the Democratic Party is the best women can hope for. I can understand why it may seem that way, but this two-party system is an exception among the democracies of the world, not the rule. Political reality may seem unassailable, but it only survives because people believe in it. I would think feminism, as a movement that challenges conventional wisdom, is the ideal vehicle to dethrone political reality and make democracy actually mean something like a government of, by, and for the people. I think this health care reform debacle has demonstrated once again that if women depend on our influence on the Democrats, the best we can hope for is tinkering around the edges of the status quo. Throwing out the Hyde Amendment will not be on the agenda; the Democratic Party needs to keep its Trojan Horse appeased. Somehow that party seems to have accepted Republican propaganda that feminists are just another special interest group that should not be coddled, especially when important issues like health reform are at stake.

  9. Elaine Sierra on April 27, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Hi, Gloria,
    Glad to see that you’re applying progressive feminist logic to the debate on health care reform and the issues related to abortion. I’m disappointed in our Democratic majority Congress and in Obama, too. However, like you, I’m more committed than ever to fighting to end the Hyde Amendment and to supporting women’s rights to choose and overall reproductive justice for everyone.
    Grass Valley Activist,

  10. Martha Shrents on June 2, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    Government knows very well that not every women can afford those private insurance. In fact, most of the insurance companies do not even offer cover for pregnancy forget about abortion. This bill has clearly not considered from a every point of view and lacks many crucial points.

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