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How Catholic Bishops Threw the Health Care Debate into Turmoil with Anti-Abortion Maneuver

It took a virulently anti-choice measure to pass the House's health care reform legislation. Progressives are strategizing how to keep it from the final bill.

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"You know, I don't think we should ... take one advance and trade it for moving back in the area of major health care for women."

"It does seem really clear to me," Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., said, "that [Speaker Pelosi] did what she had to do ... in order not to sabotage this effort for health care reform. But at the end of the day, when our House and Senate bills are merged, and we send a bill on to the president for his signature, it will not contain -- it cannot contain -- this language that constrains what women are able to do legally and constitutionally."

AlterNet contacted Pelosi's office for comment, but as of press time, we had not heard back.

Pro-Choice Dems Demand Meeting With Obama

Still, on Tuesday, Edwards -- along with 89 other Democrats -- signed a letter (PDF) initiated by Pro-Choice Caucus co-chairwomen Slaughter and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., requesting a meeting with President Barack Obama to discuss the status of reproductive health issues in the bill.

"Health care reform must not be misused as an opportunity to restrict women's access to reproductive health services," the letter reads. "The Stupak-Pitts amendment ... represents an unprecedented restriction on a woman's access to health insurance coverage of reproductive health services."

The amendment would permit women in the exchanges to purchase, on their own dime, supplemental coverage for abortion services -- coverage that few would likely buy since no one really plans for an unplanned pregnancy.

Plus, there are privacy concerns involved in any abortion-insurance scheme. At least one elected official, former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, sought the medical records of abortion clinics for a case against the clinics that was ultimately dismissed -- a move critics condemned as a means of intimidation against women who had had abortions.

Fears abound that the impact of the Stupak amendment would go far beyond the letter of the restrictions written into the bill. Edwards believes the measure would influence insurance policies offered outside the exchanges. Michelman decries the message it sends, separating abortion from other health care procedures, further stigmatizing it.

Beyond the immediate issues of the Stupak amendment is its larger impact within the Democratic caucus and in the women's movement. Many feminists embraced Obama only after Hillary Rodham Clinton lost her bid for the presidential nomination, and not a few were suspicious of his commitment to women's reproductive rights. The statement the president made yesterday to Jake Tapper of ABC News has heartened some and disheartened others.

"You know, I laid out a very simple principle, which is this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill," Obama said. "And we're not looking to change what is the principle that has been in place for a very long time, which is federal dollars are not used to subsidize abortions.

"And I want to make sure that the provision that emerges meets that test -- that we are not in some way sneaking in funding for abortions, but, on the other hand, that we're not restricting women's insurance choices, because one of the pledges I made ... was to say that if you're happy and satisfied with the insurance that you have, that it's not going to change."

"Well, I'm not comfortable with what has happened here at all," said Michelman, who supported Obama in the presidential primaries. "I really expect the president to step up to this challenge and say, this was wrong. This is health care for women, and we cannot allow a bill to damage the prospects of health care for women ... I need my president to do that. And of all the people, this is a man with great vision, and I had mixed feelings about the way he talked about the bill."