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.

Obama Caint Choose Kaine

In Texas where I come from, “caint” is a perfectly good word. If it’s not already in the dictionary, it should be.

Definition: what someone must not do, as in “Barack Obama caint choose Virginia’s anti-choice Gov. Tim Kaine as his running mate.”

Think about it. If Obama had won vastly more popular votes than Clinton, he might have more leeway in his vice presidential choice while still hoping to keep progressive women who form the core of Clinton supporters.  But he didn’t. Clinton and Obama were nearly even in the aggregate primary votes.

If August 26, the first full day of the Democratic National Convention, were not the anniversary of women’s suffrage, and if August 28—the night Obama will accept the nomination–not the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the symbolic significance of women’s right to reproductive self-determination within the larger struggle for gender equality and civil rights for all Americans, might not be quite so sharply highlighted.

And were women—especially prochoice women—not around 60% of the Democratic voter base, had Hillary not won the majority of those women, and were women voters not so likely to be the pivotal voters who can turn the race in swing states, then perhaps Obama could consider the slap-in-the-face choice of Kaine, an early Obama endorser, as his running mate with less risk to his political future.

But it is astonishing, if not downright insulting, that Kaine’s name is even floated for the vice presidential slot, let alone being seriously considered. While the relative importance of the vice presidency has been called “not worth a bucket of warm spit”, or perhaps some other bodily fluid, still, whoever is wearing those shoes is significant. He or she is still the proverbial heartbeat away from the presidency. Recent presidents have utilized the skills of their second-in-commands increasingly—Dick Cheney and Al Gore being examples. And the vice presidential choice delivers a strong message about the president’s own priorities.

Will the Democrats make the devastating strategic mistake of believing they must put the bulk of their efforts into wooing more conservative white men while taking women for granted, as they did in 2000 and 2004? If that’s what they are thinking, then Hillary Clinton is the best vice presidential candidate hands down, based on her vote-getting performance from both of those groups during the primaries.

Do the Democrats want a popular Democratic governor of a “red” state, someone who’s successfully moved a progressive agenda despite a conservative Republican legislature? Then they’d be better off choosing Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sibelius or Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona .

But mostly, Obama should not choose Kaine because Kaine opposes a woman’s most fundamental human right to decide her own destiny by making her own childbearing decisions.  Kaine opposes a long-standing central tenet of the Democratic party platform; in fact, the platform committee just adopted its strongest pro-choice language yet. I mean, how do the Democrats think they attracted all those women they are now taking for granted in the first place?

Kaine’s statement that abortion shouldn’t be criminalized, as in this Meet the Press interview is a step in the right direction, but not nearly sufficient. Women are too close to losing reproductive justice overall, as illustrated by the Bush administration’s move to redefine contraception as abortion.  We’re not talking a minor policy issue over which there can be legitimate disputes. As Linda Hirshman wrote so compellingly in Slate, we need to consider the value of a woman’s life.

No, Obama caint choose Kaine. A woman’s right to her own life stands too close to the abyss. Obama must choose a running mate with a full-hearted belief that women are equal citizens with moral and legal autonomy over their own bodies.  Someone who, like Obama, supports the Freedom of Choice Act guaranteeing women the right to make childbearing decisions without fearing government discrimination or criminalization would be just the ticket.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

WHO IS JOHN McCAIN? Hint: Not a Moderate, in Case You Were Wondering

Jake Tapper, ABC News Senior National Correspondent, in his blog “Political Punch” June 27 post “McCain Gambles with Awkward Joke” started a bit of a blog-o-flap among some feminists who though the senator’s remark about wife beating grossly inappropriate and perhaps insensitive to domestic abuse. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

In an interview with the Las Vegas Sun, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was asked by columnist Jon Ralston why he didn’t choose Gov. Jim Gibbons to chair his Nevada campaign…
Maybe it’s the governor’s approval rating and you are running from him like you are from the president? Asked Ralston in a question McCain clearly found loaded.
Said McCain, chuckling, “And I stopped beating my wife just a couple of weeks ago.”
Some have found the subject of McCain’s joke — wife-beating — inappropriate.
To be clear, McCain was alluding to the fictitious leading question “When did you stop beating your wife, senator?” It’s a bit of distasteful DC yuckery so commonly quoted it’s hackneyed.
But considering the subject McCain was discussing at the time, to allude to that joke was, well, …..awkward!
Gov. Gibbons last month filed for divorce from his wife Dawn citing incompatiblity…

There are several issues here and I’ll take a moment to sort them out:

1. McCain’s retrograde record on women is bad enough in itself to warrant a full frontal expose by as many feminist bloggers and MSM journalists as possible.  He has a 100% anti-choice voting record, not just on abortion but also on family planning funding, access to emergency contraception, medically accurate sex education, gag rules, and the gamut. He has said he opposes the Lilly Ledbetter equal pay act even though he wasn’t there to vote against it and that he wants to see Roe v Wade overturned which confirms that he’s in the same league with those who want women to be barefoot and pregnant. He intends to appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

2. The derivation of the “have you stopped beating your wife?” phrase which is an old saw that is used to illustrate an argument you can’t win, but which I would suggest was an exceedingly poor choice of words for McCain because even aside from its sexist tinge…

3. There have been rumors for many years in AZ (where I lived for 18 years and had the misfortune of trying to work with McCain on behalf of Planned Parenthood since his first race for Congress in 1982) that he abused Cindy, verbally and physically. From my personal experience with the man and his explosive, often out of control temper, I suspect there is fire behind the smoke; however, I doubt we will ever know. Because he was Barry Goldwater’s successor, he has always been protected by the Republican establishment in AZ, including the press.

4. In a recent related log on the fire, Clayton “relax and enjoy it” Williams was slated to give a fundraiser for McCain recently. That comment, in which Williams was advising what to do in case of rape or bad weather, propelled Ann Richards to her unlikely victory over Williams for Texas governor in 1990.  McCain cancelled the event when the flap was highlighted by the media, but only then. Clearly, he had no compunction about Claytie’s support until it became a political liability. And indeed, he kept the money that had been raised. The Williams-Richards episode is recent enough and legendary enough that there’s no way McCain and his staff could not have known about it.

5. Journalists should be careful about repeating allegations, and to guard against connecting dots that do not relate to one another. Still, you know that McCain and the Republicans will be throwing much worse at Obama without one moments’ concern about whether they are being accurate or not, and that in a political campaign it is in fact the little things like flippant use of sexist comments that define the candidates’ character.

There’s plenty to define McCain’s character as well as his voting record as anti-woman, anti-choice, anti-civil rights expansions in general, let alone a water carrier for the Bush administration’s retrograde policies on the war, without gambling too much on issues that might be subject to challenge though. He’s clearly not the moderate or maverick most of the press believes he is, and we need to out that often enough that it seeps into public awareness.

More research would be very helpful, but no question about it, John McCain is harmful to women’s health, rights, and equality.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.


Repairing the Damage, Before Roe by Waldo Fielding M.D., in today’s New York Times is a must read and must share. Fielding is 80; his generation of doctors knows the real stories about the injustices of illegal abortion.  An excerpt:

With the Supreme Court becoming more conservative, many people who support women’s right to choose an abortion fear that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that gave them that right, is in danger of being swept aside. When such fears arise, we often hear about the pre-Roe “bad old days.” Yet there are few physicians today who can relate to them from personal experience. I can.

I am a retired gynecologist, in my mid-80s. My early formal training in my specialty was spent in New York City, from 1948 to 1953, in two of the city’s large municipal hospitals. There I saw and treated almost every complication of illegal abortion…

Now it’s up to the generation now present to make the coat hanger (photos of which accompnied the article) a symbol of women’s empowerment rather than victimization.

The importance of electing a president in November who understands and will vigorously advance women’s human rights to reproductive self-determination and moral autonomy is of paramount importance. But we must also continue to stay engaged in the political process, asserting clearly to the President over and over that we expect him or her to make good on campaign rhetoric about supporting a woman’s right to to make her own childbearing decisions and to have access to the health care  and information that makes rights meaningful. It is too late to fight back against the incursions that have chipped away at reproductive choice and justice. The situation calls for us to fight forward with a proactive agenda, such as I proposed in The War on Choice.

A reminder: Sen. John McCain has a 100% anti-choice voting record.

Both Sens. Clinton and Obama have 100% pro-choice voting records since they’ve been in the Senate.

Clinton is a sponsor of the Freedom of Choice Act which would codify reproductive rights as civil rights and track the major provisions of Roe. She is also a prime sponsor of the Prevention First Act, which would provide additional funding and therefore access to birth control services, among other preventive education and health services. Sen. Obama is a cosponsor of this bill.

These are the two most significant pieces of proactive legislation aimed not just to restore lost access and rights but to expand them to a point where women are assured both. And that larger vision is where this debate must go.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.