Stupak-Pitts shoves women to back of busHello, American women. Welcome to the back of the bus.
By: Bonnie Erbe, The Dickinson Press
Hello, American women. Welcome to the back of the bus.
How did we end up here? We were pushed back six decades in time courtesy of an amendment to the House version of health care reform, approved this past weekend, called the Stupak-Pitts amendment.
One account describes the amendment thusly: “The Stupak amendment forces insurance companies that currently provide abortion coverage to choose between continuing that coverage, or dropping it for all women if they want to participate in health insurance exchanges, and sell their product to government-subsidized consumers.”
The reaction from Democratic female members of Congress was vehement and immediate. I received an e-mail from Congressional Women’s Caucus co-chairwoman Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D, Ill.) saying she and many other prominent female House members would vote to kill health care reform if Pitts-Stupak is included. By late Monday, Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado had collected more than 40 signatures from fellow members who vowed they would not vote for a combined House-Senate health care bill if it contains language “that restricts women’s right to choose any further than current law.”
On the Senate side, New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand was a bit more guarded. But she, too, said: “This is government invading the personal lives of many Americans, establishing for the first time restrictions on individuals who pay for their own private health insurance.”
“Proposing that women ... purchase a separate abortion rider is not only discriminatory, but ridiculous,” she said, noting that in five states that do require such riders, it’s nearly impossible to find coverage for abortions. “This anti-choice measure poses greater restriction on low-income women, denying low-income women reproductive coverage in this way is discriminatory and dangerous.”
Dangerous, yes, and in addition to that, Pitts-Stupak represents the greatest Congressional invasion of privacy rights in decades. Since 1976, the infamous Hyde Amendment has barred the use of federal funds for abortion. One could argue the Hyde Amendment’s rationale is that as taxes are paid by people who are pro- and anti-choice, people who are anti-choice (and there’s no way to separate their money from anyone else’s) don’t want their tax dollars going to fund abortions. I don’t agree with that rationale, but I understand it.
What is less comprehensible (and one would think, entirely unconstitutional) is for Congress to use government’s sway in the private insurance market to put out of business insurance companies offering plans that pay for a perfectly legal medical procedure.
Writer Jeff Shalet raises an even bigger question posed by Pitts-Stupak. That is, how far will Democrats go to try to lure pro-life evangelicals and Catholics into the fold: a constituency that rarely votes Democratic in any event? “Last time the Democrats possessed this much power in Washington, the Dixiecrats tried to hold the party hostage. Now, it’s the faith-based Democrats. Dixiecrats were racists, plain and simple; the faith-based Democrats are a more complicated bunch, a mix of genuinely moral conservatives, many of them to the left on economic issues, political cowards and default Blue Dogs. They’re anti-choice and anti-gay but, by God, they’re about love, not hate, a gentler fundamentalism, a faith based in the conflation of Christianity and the Constitution, not the substitution of one for the other.”
In the long run, this is a crowd that looks backward, not forward. They cling to a 1950’s vision of American society, and women’s place in it, that no longer exists. I’m not a fan of health care reform in its current configuration. And I sure do not believe that pursuit of health care reform merits tossing women’s rights over the side as so much detritus. We all understand that politics is the art of compromise. But compromise in pursuit of a crowd Democrats will never please seems risible at best and irresponsible at worst.
— Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail her at bonnieerbe@CompuServe.com.