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Monday, 22 March 2010 05:20

Obama's Hyde Amendment Compromise Makes an Undeserving Bart Stupak Into a Healthcare Hero

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by Meg White

The healthcare bill that passed in the House late Sunday is one small step for man and one giant leap backward for womankind.

No doubt you've heard the media's breathless line about how the only way that President Obama got this bill through the House was by lending cover to anti-choice Democrats. Just as Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) approached a podium with his misogynistic fist wrapped around the neck  of a gasping healthcare reform bill, the president caved and issued an executive order affirming the Hyde Amendment, a measure designed to ensure that no government money goes to funding abortion.

You may be thinking that Obama's statement on Hyde is no big deal. After all, he's just affirming established law, right?

Wrong. The Hyde Amendment has never been what you might call established law. In fact, Congress must reaffirm it in an appropriations bill every year in order to keep it in place. And Obama's executive order makes it even easier for Republicans and the media to keep repeating this meme about how Hyde is just the way we do business.

Not only has the amendment changed many times over the three decades it has been floating around Washington, but states interpret the law (and their constitutional rights) differently, leading to some taxpayer money funding abortions for some low income women in some states.

Incidentally, while conservatives will be using the tenth amendment to rail against the "unconstitutional" mandate, I don't think you'll hear them blustering about how the federal legislation will prevent Maryland from providing abortion funding for low-income women. Because, as we all know, states' rights can only be used as an argument for conservative causes.

Even more galling is the fact the Candidate Obama said he was opposed to the Hyde Amendment when he was running for president. So, now that he is president, why would the man functionally cement the provision into law?

What happened to the candidate who said he believes that "the federal government should not use its dollars to intrude on a poor woman's decision whether to carry to term or to terminate her pregnancy and selectively withhold benefits because she seeks to exercise her right of reproductive choice in a manner the government disfavors"?

Obama was right back then. But now, with the full weight of the White House behind Hyde, Stupak is welcome to oppose my tax dollars being spent to allow a low-income woman access to a legal abortion. But I won't be able to stop those same dollars from going to fund, say, an illegal war.

So the president's broken promise on Hyde stings plenty. But what is perhaps even more painful is the way Stupak was hailed as a hero by all the Monday morning quarterbacks out there. When the Stupak-Pitts Amendment -- which started this whole false dichotomy about the healthcare bill in the Senate being pro-abortion -- was reintroduced in a motion to recommit filed by the GOP after the president's executive order was secured, Stupak was put in the supposedly awkward position of opposing it as "a last-ditch effort of 98 years of denying Americans healthcare."

"This motion is really to politicize life, not prioritize life," Stupak said, getting a standing ovation for his bloviating. Never mind the Republicans in the peanut gallery who screamed over his speech to call him a "baby killer." End result? Stupak is a martyred healthcare hero, and I think I'm about to be violently ill.

As if the hypocritical Hyde Hustle wasn't bad enough, there are other significant setbacks for women in this bill. As I've pointed out before, the health insurance industry has many discriminatory elements built into the system which punish women simply for being women. Legislators had a great deal of success in using this fact to rally support for healthcare reform. Yet the bill that passed yesterday does not eliminate gender rating (or age rating, for that matter). National Organization for Women (NOW) President Terry O'Neill addressed the issue of charging women more for the same product in a statement Sunday:

Some are under the mistaken impression that gender-rating has been prohibited, but that is only true in the individual and small-group markets. Larger group plans (more than 100 employees) sold through the exchanges will be permitted to discriminate against women -- having an especially harmful impact in workplaces where women predominate.

Along with these discriminatory policies, the Senate bill's anti-abortion language will have basically the same effect as the Stupak Amendment would have. As I write here, the separate checks "compromise" in the Senate language will result in what Stupak wanted to do in the first place: make abortions fiscally untenable to provide and thus restrict access exclusively to the very rich.

So what now?

Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for a Free Choice, announced Sunday that she'll be opting out of politics until the Hyde Amendment is repealed:

I will not vote for or provide financial support for any candidate for public office until the Hyde Amendment is repealed. I will not contribute to any pro-choice or women's organization that does not make the repeal of the Hyde Amendment its major political priority.

...they can wring their hands, maintaining they do not have the votes -- by doing so, they will lose my support and I hope that of many others. They will also lose my respect and the sympathy I currently feel for the difficult choice they had to make this sad Sunday.

It's easy for people like Kissling (and to a much smaller degree, myself) to tell women -- who don't have a soapbox upon which to express their opinions on such matters -- to give up the only political voices they have in voting and contributing. And Obama's Hyde Hustle flip-flop is one of the clearest examples of the fact that candidates will say just about anything to get women's votes, but will do little or nothing to live up to such promises when push comes to right-wing shove. (Oh, and the next time I hear Nancy Pelosi referred to as a feminist I might just go on a rampage, so you're forewarned.)

On the pro-choice organization front, I admit regretting slightly the words I wrote in support of the National Women's Law Center's "A Woman is Not a Preexisting Condition" campaign. This morning I received from NWLC an action alert asking me to "thank those representatives who voted for quality, affordable health care," without one mention of the compromises to women's health that made the passage of this "historic" legislation possible.

So if we can't take the politicians at their collective word and as it becomes more and more difficult to believe that NOW "was looking forward to working with this president and Congress to bring an end to [Hyde Amendment] restrictions," do we as feminists just opt out of the political system? It hardly seems like a good way to have our voices heard, but then do we even have a choice in the matter?

Not really. And I imagine that's just how the anti-choice Stupak wanted it all along.