Thursday, November 19, 2009
“That’s the price of healthcare reform.” That’s what plenty of oh-so-well-meaning pundits have told those of us making a fuss over the Stupak amendment, the late-night attachment to the House healthcare reform bill that will leave virtually any woman accessing insurance through the health insurance exchange without abortion coverage.
Pro-choice and progressive healthcare reform leaders and members of Congress have come out swinging against the amendment, some going as far as to make it clear that they will refuse to support reform if Congressional Democrats decide to pay for it with women’s healthcare. Calling the amendment a “middle-class abortion ban,” Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said her organization would not support healthcare reform with an amendment further limiting access to abortion. Meanwhile, The New York Times reports, Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D – Maryland) and Dianne Feinstein (D – California) have begun strategizing against it.
“Keeping Stupak off the Senate bill is our primary goal right now,” PPFA Vice President Laurie Rubiner said, “and chances are very good for that.”
“We’re definitely hearing a lot of encouraging talk [about the Senate],” added Donna Crane, public policy director at NARAL Pro-Choice America. “The Senate thinks the House went too far.”
Sen. Ben Nelson (D – Nebraska), grabbed headlines with the announcement that he won’t support the Senate healthcare reform bill unless it, too, bans coverage of abortion, but advocates were doubtful that he could get the 60 necessary votes. “If someone wants to offer this very radical amendment, which would really tear apart [a decades-long] compromise, at that point they would need to have 60 votes to do it,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D – California) said. “It is a much more pro-choice Senate than it has been in a long time, and it is much more pro-choice than the House.”
“Ben Nelson is looking for any excuse to vote against healthcare reform,” Rubiner says. “It’s abortion today, it was the public plan yesterday.”
Though NARAL is running a petition asking Sen. Harry Reid (D – Nevada) to keep Stupak-like language off the Senate bill, the organization has not yet drawn a line in the sand. But the group’s rhetoric is strong: On the Politico website, NARAL President Nancy Keenan said that “we are prepared to stop at nothing.”
In order to fight the abortion restrictions successfully, the coalition needs to extend “beyond the women’s health community,” Richards said. And indeed, some of the most prominent progressive voices for healthcare reform are supporting joining the women’s health advocates’ fight. Health Care for America Now, the leading grassroots progressive coalition for reform, and its high-profile members, MoveOn and SEIU, have all decried the Stupak amendment. When asked how committed HCAN is to securing healthcare reform without further curtailing abortion access, National Campaign Director Richard Kirsch said, “It’s a very strong commitment. We have a set of principles. One is comprehensive benefits, including reproductive health benefits, which includes abortion care.” Still, Kirsch acknowledged, it is possible HCAN could take a position against healthcare reform with major concessions on reproductive healthcare while some of its members do the opposite.
Citing a “standing-room-only” meeting with progressive groups at the PPFA offices strategizing how to respond to Stupak, Richards said, “There’s a fair amount of solidarity. It has to be clear that we will not support a bill with Stupak.”
Further plans to rally the Senate against the Stupak amendment continue. There will be a Planned Parenthood National Lobby Day in D.C. on Dec. 2. And there is at least one online petition – from NARAL – to Sen. Reid.