BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
by Meg White
Like many of you this Monday morning, I got up early to face the mountain of messages that had piled up over my vacation last week. Toward the end of that journey down my inbox list, I clicked on an e-mail from President Barack Obama, which hailed the Senate's action on healthcare as a historic achievement.
"These are not small changes. These are big changes," he wrote.
I couldn't agree more, Mr. President. There are some huge changes in this bill. And what jumps out at me immediately is the big change that the religious right has inserted in this bill, turning half of the country into second-class citizens.
Just when we thought American women would be spared the indecency of the House's Stupak-Pitts Amendment, expected to make abortion functionally unavailable by prohibiting women from using their private plans to pay for their own abortions, the Senate came up with a "compromise" that appears to be nothing but a poison pill.
The compromise would enact a kind of kabuki theater not yet seen in this already stylized drama. Under the proposal, anyone who wanted to enroll in a private insurance plan that would provide healthcare coverage for abortions (be they men, post-menopausal women, etc.) would be required to pay their monthly premiums twice: one check would go to pay the premium itself, and another smaller amount would go to a separate premium account within the plan that would be used to provide for abortion claims.
The "compromise" was billed as a deal with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), the man who, along with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) tried and failed to incorporate the Stupak-Pitts language into the Senate bill. Indications are that it may have been more about covering for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's purchase of Nelson's vote with the promise of state subsidies for Nebraska.
Regardless of its provenance, it seems that we're stuck with this separate but unequal treatment of women in the healthcare legislation. In the New York Times' (otherwise relatively progressive) editorial about what should stay and what should go in the reconciliation process, the paper called the decision over abortion "a choice of two evils," and offered no suggestion of an alternative.
But it is not this idea of "writing two checks" that really frustrates me. Yes, it is separate, and a touch unequal, to force the segregation of such funding within private plans. But it's all the other inequalities in this "compromise" that make it unacceptable.
Under a previous House compromise it was proposed that there be a guarantee that at least one plan in each exchange not cover abortion and at least one provide coverage for the procedure. Though the Senate initially adopted this idea, the Nelson compromise stripped out this protection for the abortion-providing plan only. Of course, the needs of those to access a plan banning the coverage of abortion remain explicitly intact.
Furthermore, this whole segregation of funds idea only applies to those who are lucky enough to live in a state where officials decide that insurance companies and consumers even get to make that choice. The Senate bill allows any nanny state in the union to outlaw abortion coverage outright. So those of us who "get" to write out those separate checks could end up being few and far between.
And lest you think me an extremist for framing this in the heavy terms of "separate but not equal," know that I am not alone. For example, read this assessment from Lauren Simonds, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington:
If it wasn’t clear before the health care battle of 2009 that women’s reproductive health care is viewed as separate and unequal to other types of basic health care, it is now. No other medical procedure is singled out and stigmatized like abortion. Even a proposed tax on elective cosmetic surgery was eliminated after public outcry.
Simonds' point about the attempt at a so-called "Botax" leads me to another inequality inherent in this argument. Why should I be forced to pay for the continued availability of elective plastic surgery, something I find at times stretches into the realm of moral reprehension, while common reproductive procedures are virtually outlawed?
Not only are women's healthcare needs being "segregated" out of mainstream funding, but there is an inequality of morals here as well. While the desires of pro-life America are being catapulted to the very top of the list in Washington, the rest of us must wait for our concerns over virtue to be heard.
What about those of us who oppose the notion of our money being spent on what we see as unjust wars? One abortion may indeed be a tragic procedure resulting in the termination of potential life, and even perhaps the scarring of another. At the same time, one war kills, maims and psychologically damages untold millions around the world. Oh, and it costs a whole hell of a lot more than any medical procedure. I have a feeling that if the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had to be paid for with separate checks, things would look very different abroad.
If you want to see this as a one-on-one or local issue, let's take a look at the many whose state and local taxes go toward paying to execute criminals (who may or may not actually be guilty of the crime they're accused of committing). Shall we begin to request that those who support capital punishment submit separate payments for each lethal injection that they support?
Reina Schiffrin, the president of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, called the compromise unacceptable, vowing to oppose any such measure under which "women will be worse off after health care reform."
Schiffrin also points out that Nelson's compromise will likely make coverage for abortion services entirely unavailable because "it is highly unlikely that insurance companies will be willing to offer abortion coverage if it means abiding by a series of onerous administrative requirements, leaving tens of millions of women without abortion coverage, even for policies they pay for with their own money."
Considering the dangers already faced by those who provide abortion services, the restricted payment options will likely mean fewer doctors will provide the services, leading to a secondary drop in availability.
Yet, as I indicated above, this compromise appears to be nothing but a poison pill, because neither side of the choice issue thinks it's a good idea. The deal is considered “morally unacceptable” to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. And even Rep. Bart Stupak (the Democratic lawmaker from Michigan and a co-author/carrier of Stupak-Pitts) has recently said that the compromise doesn't go far enough to get his vote on final passage.
And that brings me back to what I was saying last month about negotiating with terrorists on healthcare reform:
The anti-choice lobby is not satisfied to keep the status quo afforded by the Hyde Amendment. Instead, they're willing to sink healthcare reform in the effort to remove any and all coverage, public or private, for the legally-available medical service of abortion...
Yes, it is still wrong to trade women's reproductive rights so that the rest of the population can have decent healthcare. The only new item we've learned is that not only is it wrong, but it doesn't work.
What is far worse than being seen as a bargaining chip worth expending is to be seen as a bargaining chip to be given away for free. Now that the bargaining chip of women's reproductive rights is in the hands of the pro-life community, they plan to use healthcare reform to take away the rights we still have.
So much for negotiating with the choice terrorists.
So, in the interest of again trying to learn something from the mistakes of the false promise of bipartisanship in this Congress, I suppose we can guess why these "choice terrorists" are so eager to sink the average American woman's chances at getting adequate access to healthcare: They see us as second-class citizens.
BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS