Posts Tagged ‘stupak’

Health Care Reform: A Pro-Choice Victory?

April 1, 2010

There has been a lot of talk from conservatives, claiming to be pro-life, that health care reform is a pro-choice victory.  I’ve already outlined at length on this blog how this is false and that such persons were almost always against the bill regardless of what abortion language was used.  (What a shame that they used pro-life considerations as a pawn in a battle over something else.  But what else is new, right?)

But now that health care reform has passed, the disaffected pro-abortion rights crowd is making their displeasure that much more public. The whole article from ‘The Nation’ is worth reading, but here are some excerpts:

The months of debate and politicking around the healthcare overhaul provided a glimpse of the political strength of the prochoice movement that hasn’t been possible for years. The picture that emerged wasn’t pretty, as supporters of choice found that they don’t have the influence many assumed they did. Almost as soon as the reform process began, abortion rights became a bargaining chip. And after the frenzied horse-trading that finally produced a law, women across the country were left with less access to the procedure and a seriously weakened power base from which to protect and advocate for abortion rights.  “It’s an enormous setback,” says Laurie Rubiner, vice president for public policy for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

In order to win the support of antichoice Democrats and save the bill, the Obama administration embraced the principle of Hyde, signing into law a bill that, in the words of Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, “goes far beyond current law by placing unreasonable burdens on those who want to either offer or purchase private health insurance coverage for abortion.” Desperate to keep healthcare reform alive, even prochoice groups found themselves defending the public-funding ban they so despised. “The most damaging thing about healthcare reform is that even our prochoice leadership has been, through no fault of their own, reinforcing Hyde,” says Laura MacCleery, director of government relations and communications for the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The compromise on abortion coverage that became law was only slightly less odious than the Stupak Amendment, which, to the horror of prochoicers, passed the House in a 240-194 vote on November 7, and would have prevented any health plan that receives federal money from paying for abortions. Politically, the Stupak vote laid bare the fact that there simply aren’t enough people willing to go to bat for abortion in Congress. The resounding vote count, coming late on a Saturday evening after hours of back-room scheming, was no surprise to Washington insiders on both sides of the issue. They already knew what would soon become plain to everyone else: a Democratic majority is not the same as a prochoice majority.

What a remarkable statement!   And for those of you who think the language of the Senate bill is ‘pro-abortion’ (full disclosure: I plead guilty to having a misinformed opinion about it at first), please take a look at this reaction:

As the final vote neared, prochoice Senators Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray worked hard to keep Stupak-like language completely banning abortion coverage out of the bill, but they couldn’t even make a show of being able to stop Nelson. Around this time, Scott Brown had won the special election in Massachusetts, dispensing with the Democrats’ supermajority and putting the fate of healthcare reform in serious jeopardy. Though the major advocacy groups raised strong objections to the Nelson language–Planned Parenthood called it “offensive,” NARAL Pro-Choice America called it “outrageous” and “unacceptable”–neither advised voting against the bill.

Now, of course, the Nelson Amendment is law. And unless it is mitigated or eliminated through the regulatory process (a possibility that policy experts and lawyers are delving into), it will definitely create hassles for both women and insurers and will probably result in some health plans dropping abortion coverage altogether. Politically, it will likely create a new platform for antiabortion groups, which are expected to push state legislators to ban abortion coverage offered in their state-level exchanges (existing policies outside the exchanges would not be affected).

And, yes, the key now is where we all go from here.  Some in the pro-abortion rights crowd hope that, “The real policy setbacks of healthcare reform could also serve as the wake-up call for women that prochoicers need.”  But the pro-lifer who still thinks that the health care reform bill was a pro-choice victory, and that its passage is somehow evidence that they don’t need ‘fake’ or ‘insincere’ Democrat pro-lifers like Bart Stupak, needs a wake up call of their own.  This country has gotten more liberal even as it has gotten more pro-life.  The big tent approach to the pro-life movement is working.  Let’s continue to press forward together.

A Pro-Life Victory

March 22, 2010

The passage of health care reform (something which, incidentally, I don’t think I’ve fully processed yet) is, on multiple levels, a pro-life victory.   The dozens of millions of vulnerable persons who have little to no hope in their illness will be brought into the community of persons provided for by our health care system.  It doesn’t get more pro-life than that.

And mostly due to the heroic efforts of pro-life democrats like Bart Stupak this bill is a pro-life victory on the abortion front as well.  As I’ve mentioned several times before on this blog, even the original House bill (which the US Bishops supported) funded abortions, so what was left was jockeying for political and legislative points to make it as baby-friendly as possible.   What the pro-lifers got out of this battle was simply extraordinary: not only the Senate bill’s abortion language (which was actually not bad at all), but a public executive order–full of pro-life language stigmatizing abortion as something other than ‘normal’ health care–that has not only powerful symbolic force but also the bite of actual public policy:

The fact is, this is a very big deal.  Although the Hyde Amendment is repeatedly renewed, it is not a law on the books per se.  It must be renewed each year as part of the budget.  This means that every year we have the opportunity to get rid of it (although we have as yet been unsuccessful).  An executive order, in contrast, would put these provisions on the books until it is rescinded.  It is much harder to rescind an executive order than to change language that must be inserted in the budget yearly.  Really, what president would stick his neck out for the 1/3 of women who will need abortions?  If we are to be guided by history, nobody.

What the whole health care reform process symbolized and demonstrated is a larger movement away from our old categories and toward a consistent ethic of life.  Those on the extremes–who either (1) want to see abortion treated similarly to any other kind of medical procedure, or (2) make anti-abortion arguments while rejecting broader concern for the vulnerable (characterized perfectly by the republican who called Bart Stupak a ‘baby killer’ on the House floor yesterday)–are being pushed to the margins.

The complex, magenta reality is finally starting to push through.  And it’s about time.

Pelosi’s Moment of Truth

March 20, 2010

I’ve been highlighting the choice that democrats, largely in the person of Nancy Pelosi, have to make in the health care debate: will she sell out to abortion-rights extremists who want to see abortion like any other kind of health care and risk killing health care reform?

Well, it looks as if the President and Pelosi had worked out a deal to give Stupak a manager’s amendment to get his preferred language…and it was likely to pass given republican support.  However, this is what appears to have happened:

The publication of the amendment triggered a flurry of activity within the pro-choice community, who began hammering their own leadership, who in turn put pressure on members of the pro-choice caucus as well as Pelosi herself. Although NARAL’s Nancy Keenan had not planned to oppose the measure, outrage from within her own ranks caused her to speak out.

According to the source (and with no small amount of irony), “Nancy Pelosi finally grew balls.”

Pelosi had wanted the pro-choice caucus to accept a deal whereby after the House voted to pass the health care bill with the Senate’s Nelson language, Stupak would get a stand-alone vote that could pass with the help of anti-choice Republicans.

Members of the pro-choice caucus felt that Nancy had “sold us out,” according to one member. “She is just going along with whatever the boys in the White House tell her to do.”

This sell out to pro-abortion rights extremists might be the death knell of health care reform:

As Dave Dayen notes in his whip count, even if Pelosi gets every other uncommitted vote, she still needs to crack the Stupak block to get to 216.

Abortion and Health Care Reform: Wading Through the Complexity

March 6, 2010

Like most conflicts that have very smart people on multiple sides of the argument, the debate over abortion and health care reform is complicated.  But here is one thing we now know: the final act of the health care debate will come down to how this argument plays out.  Indeed, Politico reported yesterday that Nancy Pelosi has invited several woman’s groups to a strategy meeting to figure out how to approach the very real final problem they face: overcoming the twelve+ pro-life democrats who, though they voted for the House bill, are not expected to vote for the Senate bill.

But those who wish to see the strongest language possible prohibiting our money from going to subsidize abortions need to be honest about something.  Many of the premiums we pay into our own private health care insurance company go to pay for others’ abortions.  Many of the taxes we pay go to state medicaid programs which cover abortions.  Indeed the Roman Catholic Church, which considers abortion even in the case of rape to be an intrinsic evil, strongly supports the House health care reform bill–a bill which uses taxpayer money to subsidize abortion in the case of rape.  What we need to be honest about, then, is that this is not some ultra-principled, never-say-die, fight.  This is an important political calculation.  The U.S. Bishops, along with many of those who are rightly object to our tax dollars going to fund abortion and yet support the House bill, are apparently willing to make the calculation that the good of health care reform outweighs the evil of having some abortions federally subsidized.

But many believe that such a calculation nevertheless involves making absolutely clear that no abortions done for reasons of mere birth control should be covered in a federally managed and subsidized health care insurance exchange.  That’s their line in sand.  They therefore support the House bill which explicitly mandates this over the Senate bill which does not.   Nevertheless, many like Timothy Noah over at Slate assure them that ‘the Senate bill doesn’t fund abortions’ and:

What really rankles Stupak (and the bishops) isn’t that the Senate bill commits taxpayer dollars to funding abortion. Rather, it’s that the Senate bill commits taxpayer dollars to people who buy private insurance policies that happen to cover abortion at nominal cost to the purchaser (even the poorest of the poor can spare $1 a month) and no cost at all to the insurer. Stupak and the bishops don’t have a beef with government spending. They have a beef with market economics.

But this just is government funding of abortion.  If I buy a health insurance policy with the expressed desire to have abortion as part of my coverage, and the government says, “Sure, go ahead…we’ll even help you with your payments in such a policy…but we’ll require you to send a separate check to fund your abortion coverage,” is this really anything more than an accounting trick?   Indeed, it seems that even pro-choice leaders have described it as such:

In January, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.), a pro-abortion leader in the Senate, assured McClatchy News Service that the abortion surcharge requirement is only an “accounting procedure,” and DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also assured pro-abortion listeners that the Nelson language was of no consequence.  Yet today, in an effort to entice pro-life Democrats in the House to vote for the bill, the White House and Democratic leaders are working on “convincing as many as a dozen antiabortion Democrats in the House that abortion language in the Senate bill is more stringent than initially portrayed,” according to a report in the March 5 Washington Post.

The bottom line is that if the Senate bill is passed, for the first time ever we will have (multiple)  federal government managed and subsidized insurance companies offering birth control abortions.  This is what those who want the House bill don’t want to see.  But even even if they are wrong about that (and I think that good people can disagree) the Senate bill funds abortion in multiple other ways that the House bill does not.  Here are just two examples:

The Senate bill would reauthorize all federal Indian health programs, without including language to prohibit funding of elective abortion, even though such an amendment (the Vitter Amendment, similar to the Stupak Amendment) was approved by the Senate when it last considered Indian health legislation on February 26, 2008.   There is a clause in the Senate health bill [Sec. 10221, pp. 2175-2176] that has been misrepresented as an abortion restriction, but it actually contains no policy standard on abortion funding — it merely “punts” the question to the annual appropriations process, an unacceptable approachA vote for the Senate bill is a vote to open the door to future federal funding of abortion on demand through all Indian health programs.

The Senate bill, due to a last-minute amendment, provides $7 billion for the nation’s 1,250 Community Health Centers (CHCs), without any restriction whatever on the use of these federal funds to pay directly for abortion on demand.  (These funds are both authorized and appropriated by the bill, and thus would be untouched by the “Hyde Amendment” that currently covers Medicaid funds that flow through the annual Health and Human Services appropriations bill.)  Two pro-abortion groups, the Reproductive Health Access Project and the Abortion Access Project, are already actively campaigning for Community Health Centers to perform elective abortions.  In short, the Senate bill would allow direct federal funding of abortion on demand through Community Health Centers.

But those who want the House bill  instead of this (and, in my view, rightly so) have a major problem.  The way that health care reform will be passed, if at all, is by the House passing the Senate bill–and then using budget reconciliation to pass amendments that will appease a simple majority of House members.  Unfortunately, though this isn’t totally clear (and the we are learning just how much power the parliamentarian of the House and Senate has in this process in determining this), Stupak’s abortion amendment to the House bill  appears not to fall under the budgetary procedure that would make it open to being inserted into the final bill via reconciliation.  If so, and Pelosi cannot get 12+ new votes for the bill to balance the democrat pro-lifers who want Stupak language (an unlikely prospect to be sure), then the only way to do this would be to have the Senate pass the House bill and then do reconciliation (an even more unlikely prospect).

But I think I’ve actually changed my mind about this.

I’m glad Stupak and company are doing what they are doing, and I think they should continue to try to force the issue to get what is clearly the better abortion language, but if it comes down to passing health care reform or not I think the duty we have to the dozens of millions without health insurance trumps the abortion coverage difference between the two bills.  Remember, we are already simply playing for political points here and not standing by principle: every single supporter of the House bill is willing to support subsidized abortion in some form already.  Would the Senate bill be that much worse?  I think that the ‘separate check’ strategy, though clearly not stopping federal support of abortion, sends a wonderfully symbolic message that we as a country do not put birth control abortions in the same category as the rest of medicine.  Everyone who takes the time to write a separate check to get birth control abortion coverage will get this message.   Indeed, this is a message which upsets all the right pro-abortion rights groups.

Public policy is a teacher…and this is about as important as a lesson gets.

Health Care Reform on the Brink: Stupak Takes Off the Gloves

December 22, 2009

Well, we’ve been waiting to hear from him, and now he tells us in no uncertain terms:

Rep. Stupak: “So we’re getting a lot of pressure not to say anything, to try to compromise this principle or belief, and we’re just not – that’s just not us, I mean, we’re not going to do that. Members who voted for the Stupak language in the House – especially the Democrats, 64 Democrats that voted for it – feel very strongly about it. It’s been part of who we are, part of our make up. It’s the principle belief that we have. We are not just going to abandon it in the name of health care.”

CNSNews.com: “So, to go back and ask you again, do you have the votes needed to stop the bill, if it comes to that?”

Rep. Stupak: “Well, if all the issues are resolved and we’re down to the pro-life view or, I should say, no public funding for abortion, there’s at least 10 to 12 members who have said repeatedly, unless this language is fixed and current law is maintained and no public funding for abortion, they’re not gonna’  vote for the bill. There’s 10 or 12 of us — they only passed the bill by 3 votes, so they’re going to be short 8 to 9, maybe 6 to 8 votes. So they do not have the votes to pass it in the House.”

He has now said it publicly.  He and several other pro-life democrats are prepared to kill health care reform in order to make sure no federally administered and subsidized insurance  exchange provides abortion coverage.  Is the party itself ready to kill health care reform–and essentially fall on its own political sword–to make NARAL and Planned Parenthood happy?  Who are the democrats and will they get on the side of a consistent ethic of life as public opinion shifts in that direction?

Given the push to get the bill passed by the President’s State of the Union speech in late January, the coming weeks will be interesting indeed!

“It Had All Come Down to Abortion”

December 20, 2009

Sadly, so many important and complex ethical issues today seem to be seen through the lens of the abortion wars (yet another reason it is so important to have discourse on this topic far, far differently than we currently do), and health care reform is another one of them.  It was not just a central issue, but THE issue down the stretch.  Indeed, as Politico reports, “It had all come down to abortion”:

After a break for lunch, Reid turned to abortion.  Nelson and Chief of Staff Tim Becker, who had flown in from Nebraska, set up shop in one room of Reid’s suite. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and her aides settled into another wing with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the two senators there to represent Democrats who favor abortion rights.  The opposing senators never spoke with each other or sat at the same table. They negotiated through Reid and Schumer.

Through the afternoon and early evening, they appeared deadlocked. Both sides, in consultation with advocacy groups, rejected various offers.  They couldn’t get beyond differences between the so-called Stupak amendment in the House bill, which would require women who receive federal subsidies for insurance to seek out a separate abortion rider, and a proposal by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) requiring policyholders to opt-out of abortion coverage. “I don’t know if we can do this,” Nelson said he told Reid at one point. “I’m running out of ideas.”

As he spent the day munching on almonds, peanuts and potato chips, Nelson said he eventually had what he described as a breakthrough. He turned over a piece of paper, and drew a line down the center.  “Why don’t we have two policies?” Nelson asked. “One with and one without.”  Nelson proposed that every state insurance exchange offer at least one plan that does not cover abortion, and policyholders could choose a plan with or without abortion coverage, unless states choose to ban it. Also, people who receive federal subsidies would need to write two separate checks as a way to ensure that none of the federal dollars went toward the abortion premium.

But this was not a new idea, and the pro-life groups who had supported Nelson (and had previously rejected similar ideas) were aghast.  As National Right to Life pointed out, “This seems to envision a system under which the OPM director would administer multi-state plans that cover elective abortions, and perhaps even possess authority to require such plans to cover elective abortions, as long as the director also ensured that there was one plan that did not cover abortions (except types of abortions also funded by the federal Medicaid program).”  The idea that the federal government would subsidize and manage (and perhaps require) health insurance companies that cover abortions is unprecedented, and Senator Nelson looks like a small time legislative sell out for this 11th hour move.

But with the senate vote likely to pass tonight, this sets up a huge and dramatic conference committee process between the House and Senate in the next couple weeks.  Pro-Life Democratic Representative Bark Stupak has already said that his pro-life democrat cohort will not support the Nelson compromise which means, if they are serious, the Senate bill cannot pass the House.  I know I’ve beat a dead horse on this blog already about this issue, but it is worth repeating again and again: the political winds have shifted; being liberal no longer means supporting abortion rights…and it certainly doesn’t mean supporting federal funding and managing of abortion.  Democrats now appear to have a huge choice to make: either pass a bill that will cover 30+ million of our most vulnerable citizens, end refusal of coverage based on preexisting conditions, and save billions of dollars in the long run–or reject the call of history and of their president and cave into the pro-abortion rights extremists of their party…leaving the bill to suffer a humiliating and unnecessary defeat.  If they choose the latter, they sacrifice not only those vulnerable uninsured counting on them to succeed, but also their political future and that of their president. If they choose the former, they get on the right side of history and score a huge victory for authentic reform.

Oh, and they go a long way to ending the horrifically destructive practice of viewing virtually every issue through the lens of the abortion wars.

A Lack of Will from Senator Casey?

December 10, 2009

While it is true that (as mentioned below) there could be a manager’s amendment snuck in at the last minute with Stupak-like language, and this is the reason for their equivocation about pro-life language in the Senate Health Care Reform Bill, I begin to worry more and more that this is simply a lack of will on the part of Senators Nelson and especially Casey.  Consider this statement from Senator Casey:

Yet in the debate over health-care reform, Casey’s pro-life voice has been muted. He has done nothing more for the unborn than do as he did yesterday in voting for the Nelson anti-abortion amendment. He has not said he will hold up the legislation if it contains indirect funding of abortion. As he said recently, “I just think that there’s going to be enough momentum to get a bill passed that one issue – even a very important issue – will not prevent passage.”

Momentum?  Senator, if you have the will to filibuster this bill you (all by yourself) will force the dems to put in Stupak like language….much like Lieberman, all by himself, forced out the public option with a filibuster threat.   Letting health care reform fail for reasons  that will be painted in the midterm elections as selling out to pro-abortion rights extremism will be political suicide.  Especially for a country that now describes itself as pro-life (with the arrow continuing to point up) and that has the exploding magenta phenomenon of the ‘pro-life democrat’ (over a quarter of the Democratic caucus voted for Stupak).  Senators Casey and Nelson must act like their colleagues in the House; they must steel their spines in the confidence of this growing movement and the seize a moment to pass health care reform in a way that protects all  vulnerable members of the human family.  Those ‘liberals’ who default into a mantra of choice and privacy (which ignores and therefore sacrifices the vulnerable to the interests of the powerful) are losing ground and they are losing the public debate.  Now is no time for weak knees in the face of ‘momentum’.  Now is the time for confidence.  You hold all the cards.

Contact Senators Casey (PA) and Nelson (NE) and tell them to keep the pressure on.  And tell others (especially their constituents)  to do the same.