The Weaknesses of the Pro-Choice Movement Have Been Exposed -- Now What?
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NARAL and Planned Parenthood's Action Fund, which score candidates according to their voting record on reproductive health issues, have decided not to include the final health care reform vote in scoring, a decision that reflects the fact that even their most loyal supporters in the House voted for the final legislation. Both groups categorized the Stupak vote as "anti-choice." But, even with the antiabortion language, they couldn't judge the final vote the same way. According to Rubiner, this was both because health care reform offers so many benefits to the low-income women Planned Parenthood serves and because the Nelson language wasn't as onerous as that of the Stupak Amendment. "Stupak was an outright ban on abortion coverage, period. It was very black and white," says Rubiner. "Nelson, by contrast, sets up a very cumbersome scheme by which insurers can provide coverage, but it doesn't ban it."
The fight has begun to define the meaning of health care reform in the midterm elections--and the crucial battleground is swing districts, where sentiment on abortion is murky. A recent poll conducted for the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that supports women anti-abortion candidates, showed that in seven of eight Congressional districts represented by anti-abortion Democrats who voted for Stupak, most voters said they would be less likely to support the re-election of their representative if he or she voted for a health care bill that included federal funding of abortion. Of course, the health care bill doesn't do this--notwithstanding the claims of extreme abortion opponents (à la Randy Neugebauer). So pro-choicers have to set the record straight on that score. But abortion rights supporters also have to convey how the new law actually sets those rights back, depriving women of access to a legal medical procedure--an argument that could potentially gain the sympathy of gray-area voters.
It's probably unreasonable to hope for anything more. Yet some advocacy groups, such as NOW and Raising Women's Voices, are aiming higher--pushing to finally roll back Hyde. Given what we've just learned about Congressional backing for public funding, such an effort will clearly be a steep uphill battle. Yet you can see why some of the boldest activists think its time has come. With the other side, led by Stupak, having alienated at least some of the public with its extremism, pro-choice advocates hope the pendulum of moderates' sympathy will swing their way.
The real policy setbacks of health care reform could also serve as the wake-up call for women that pro-choicers need. Because the new law will bring about a major expansion of Medicaid, and also because the economic downturn has driven up the number of uninsured, more and more women will soon be in the position of relying on government-subsidized or -provided health insurance. And thus more and more women will likely have abortion excluded from their medical coverage.
Advocates are already thinking about how to best harness their discontent. "We'll be trying to convince women to tell their stories about what it means not to have that coverage," says Uttley of Raising Women's Voices. "We think we have a chance. As long as people think it's someone else who won't get coverage, they won't care. Once they realize it's the family next door, the lady who sits behind them in church, then their hearts can be changed."
Sharon Lerner is the author of 'The War on Moms: On Life in a Family-Unfriendly Nation,' which is due out early next year.