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Health Care Bill Throws Women Under the Bus on Reproductive Rights

Despite the many good elements in the health care bill, it deals a heavy blow to the pro-choice movement.
 
 
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Less than 24 hours after the House passed its historic health care reform bill, the mixed reaction from feminists and women's groups provides a taste of the bitter pill it forces them to swallow, even as political allies celebrate a momentous legislative victory.

Despite the many good elements in the health care bill, it deals a heavy blow to those who hoped that healthcare reform might pass without throwing women -- particularly poor women -- under the bus when it came to reproductive rights.

"The final health-care reform bill represents a huge loss for the pro-choice movement, and one largely dealt by Democrats," writes Dana Goldstein at The Daily Beast.

It's difficult not to be moved by the figure 31 million -- the number of uninsured people who will have access to less-expensive coverage after reform. But we should all understand that the bill was passed at the expense of poor women's reproductive rights. Middle-class and rich women -- the wives, daughters, and mistresses of politicians -- can always travel to get an abortion or pay out of pocket if they have to.

Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) decried the inclusion of "a sweeping anti-abortion provision" that "ultimately achieves the same outcome as the infamous Stupak-Pitts Amendment, namely the likely elimination of all private as well as public insurance coverage for abortion." As AlterNet's Adele Stan explains, this provision, courtesy of Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, "demands that women receiving federal subsidies for health insurance write a second check to their insurer for policies purchased through the government-administered exchanges for any portion of their policy that covers abortion."

O'Neill called it a "bizarre requirement."

"Even employers will have to write two separate checks for each of their employees requesting the abortion rider," she added -- a troubling prospect indeed.

And what about Obama's Executive Order, negotiated in exchange for votes from anti-choice Democrats? The order promises the government will hew to longstanding restrictions on reproductive rights in the form Hyde Amendment, named after anti-choice Republican Henry Hyde. Goldstein describes it as a "Faustian bargain" that has the effect of "enshrining the Hyde Amendment and expanding its reach into the new private insurance exchanges created by the health-care bill." Jane Hamsher describes it as "a national shame" especially from "a Democratic President who pledged the repeal of the Hyde Amendment." ("How far we've come since 2007, when Barack Obama swore that his first act in office would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act.") NARAL condemned the order, calling it "deeply disappointing," while Planned Parenthood released a carefully worded statement that made clear that Obama had little choice: "We regret that a pro-choice president of a pro-choice nation was forced to sign an Executive Order that further codifies the proposed anti-choice language in the health-care reform bill."

Still, others dismiss the executive order as a primarily symbolic move, a restatement of what is already true under the Hyde Amendment. "The executive order is a red herring," writes Lindsay Beyerstein at the Media Consortium. "It won't impose any further restrictions, it just restates the status quo."

The problem with the status quo, as Feministing contributor Jos Truitt points out, is that it is "horrible."

"Many reproductive rights organizations have taken the position that we should maintain the status quo regarding the use of federal funds for abortion in health care reform," Truitt wrote in November. "I understand the pragmatism of this approach -- passing health care reform is a massively difficult undertaking that has been derailed before. Trying to keep abortion out of the debate as much as possible without losing ground was an understandable goal. But let's be clear: the status quo sucks."