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The Time Is Now To Pass Pro-Choice, Comprehensive Health Care

March 11, 2010

“This is not a bill about abortion, this is about health care reform,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs to the audience of Good Morning America on Tuesday. Easier said than done, Mr. Gibbs. For the past six months, the health care reform process has become a venomous tug-o-war over women’s choice in exchange for offering health care to 30 million uninsured Americans. We are now in the final few weeks of this struggle. Now, more than ever, is the time to stand up for women’s reproductive rights. There are several major threats to choice outlined below that must be addressed before the final bill is passed or else women will find themselves stuck under the bus, with the gears in reverse: Big Insurance. Progressives everywhere have taken aim at big insurance companies, which are slowly gaining more traction in the health care reform process and making it nearly impossible to have any type of public option in the current bill. Costs of health care for small business owners – which include private women’s health care clinics – will skyrocket if the bill is not passed. However, if a bill is passed that regulates costs, but simultaneously rolls back a woman’s right to choose, the insurance companies will then be able to charge even more exorbitant prices for birth control, women’s health procedures and any medical costs associated with performing legal abortions in private clinics. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB has become a completely unregulated anti-choice lobby arm (with a tax exempt status) in Congress. No one is pushing back on the Bishops in an organized manner while they preach political policy from their pulpits. While simultaneously trying to strengthen the Nelson language in the current Senate bill, there have been reports of a potential third abortion bill chartered by USCCB’s favorite Catholic crusader, Rep. Bart Stupak. David Dayden at FireDogLake breaks down the rosary beads on this clear disintegration of the idea behind a “separation of church and state.” The Nelson Amendment. The House still has to vote on the reconciled bill from the Senate, which contains the Nelson amendment. This amendment is  considered a severe rollback of reproductive rights. If the bill is passed with the Nelson amendment, some have said it will become the “Jim Crowe” law of reproductive health. While women’s rights groups are in support of the current health care bill, they are demanding that Nelson language be removed during the final stage of the bill’s passage. Bart Stupak and his 11 Merry Pranksters. We all know why Stupak is on this list. He has been having a temper tantrum ever since the Stupak-Pitts amendment language was not included verbatim in the Senate bill. RH Reality Check reports that he has a dwindling crew of “11 other representatives that will vote against reform if they don’t get their way” on abortion language. However, these 11 are becoming a rare species thanks to Speaker Pelosi negotiating with them separately to reduce Stupak’s leverage. It seems to be working as RH Reality Check points out how “on February 24th, Stupak told The Hill that he had ‘15 to 20’ members of this crew.  On February 26th, it was down to ‘10 to 12’…yesterday it was 12, and today it is 11.” It is important that we work hard to make Stupak as toxic as possible, which includes supporting progressive candidates running in his district such as Connie Saltonstall. Dennis Kucinich. This is a new threat to reform as written about on The Huffington Post. Kucinich signaled a hard “No” vote on the present health care bill due to the fact that it lacks a public option. This dissonance from the Ohio Democrat will make House leadership scramble to find another vote to get the reconciled bill passed, which may lead them back to Stupak and offer even more leverage to the Michigan Democrat. White House Leadership. Despite Gibbs’ statement on Good Morning America, White House leadership has been seemingly quiet on the tenuous issue of abortion coverage lately. While the White House has made health care reform a huge priority, it has felt at times that women’s health is still being shoved under the rug. In the GMA segment above, Gibbs followed up by saying that any bill that is passed should maintain the current federal funding limits on abortion, referring to the Hyde Amendment, but continue to protect a woman’s right to choose. Maintaining status quo on abortion has been the White House stance since the beginning, but in failing to take a stronger stand against the Bishops, Stupak and other evolving threats to reproductive choice, White House leadership could be seen as indirectly condoning final rollbacks to choice once everything is all said and done. The Mainstream Media. It seems that everywhere you look these days another anti-choice voice is taking over the television screen. Again, Stupak is often in the spotlight for his controversial positions, but has received little pushback from reporters on the blatant lies he has been proliferating across the airwaves of America. Thankfully, Media Matters has been covering the journalistic malpractice by the likes of Chris Matthews, Peter Johnson, and Greta Van Susteran – but it is important that you tell the mainstream media through letters to the editor and phone calls to radio and television stations to stop giving Stupak a stage and a microphone for his radical viewpoints without counter opinions or fact checking. As you can see, we’ve got our work cut out for us. The women’s rights movement has been fighting hard against these anti-choice efforts, but we need your help, we need your voice and we need you to stand up against these major threats. Women’s Media Center is maintaining a hub of information about the bill and it’s relationship to abortion coverage here at;  Emily’s List issued a warning to any female politician who has ever received funding from the organization about voting out of line with pro-choice policy; NARAL, Planned Parenthood and other organizations are distributing petitions to pressure Speaker Pelosi and house leadership; and a handful of pro-choice elected officials such as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand are raising their voices and driving constituents to push back against anti-choice measures in the current bill. It is clear that America cannot afford to move forward without comprehensive, fair, accessible health care coverage. And yet, despite Gibbs’ statement that “this is not a bill about abortion” the issue has clearly driven a huge wedge into the heart of Democratic Party and created an opening for religious interests and conservative rhetoric to take control of the dialogue. In my limited time as a feminist activist, I’ve written about a lot of things. But in looking back, just a few years ago when I started my work in this movement, I never thought that in the year 2010, at age 25, my activism would be defined by the same battles as those in my mother’s lifetime — the struggle over my body and my choice. The views expressed here are the authors alone.