Editors' Note: Guest blogger Louisa V. Hill is an MFA candidate at the University of Iowa's Playwrights' Workshop.
LGBT folks and their allies know all too well that their human rights are often the first to be sacrificed under the guise of "political compromise," when policymakers acquiesce to the ideologies of certain groups of people to buy votes. This year has been ripe with examples-- Rick Warren, marriage equality, ENDA, DADT-- showing us how often policymakers sell out LGBT rights for the sake of "party unity."
I'm writing to outline how the Stupak-Pitts Amendment to the Affordable Health Care for America Act (HR 3962) is a similar phenomenon, trampling on the human rights of a certain group for the sake of "compromise." But what does "compromise" really mean if your rights are the collateral damage for a so-called bigger picture?
Healthcare reform is necessary for many reasons. However, the Stupak-Pitts amendment involves more than just asking women to "take one for the team." This amendment undermines President Obama's entire healthcare plan, by reinforcing a sexist, classist healthcare hierarchy, circumscribing women's rights for an anti-choice agenda, and thus punishing those who are most in need of real healthcare reform.
Though it may seem a concern exclusive to heterosexual women, this amendment is about human rights and how easily they are disregarded for the sake of "cooperation." After learning more about the insidious effects of this amendment, I hope you will join in taking action to prevent this amendment from becoming law (see below for suggestions!).
Understanding the Impact of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment
For those who aren't up-to-date on the health reform act, the Stupak-Pitts amendment is effectively a classist ban on abortion. It not only fails to provide comprehensive care for women who do not have health insurance, but it also strips existing rights away from women who do have health insurance.
Today 87% of health insurance policies provide coverage for abortion. However, under the new healthcare exchange, women will lose this coverage, even if they keep their same health plan and pay for it entirely out of pocket..
To clarify some confusion, the negative reaction to the Stupak-Pitts amendment is not due to women wanting the government to pay for abortions through the new healthcare exchange. The Hyde Amendment (1976) already prohibits the use of government funds to pay for abortions. Instead, the Stupak-Pitts amendment will prohibit insurance companies from covering abortion--making it intensely more restrictive than Hyde.
NOW outlines the spectrum of circumstances under which women would lose their abortion coverage, including those who:
- Receive 100 percent subsidies from the government to purchase private health insurance.
- Receive partial subsidies from the government and pay some of their own money to purchase private health insurance.
- Spend 100 percent of their own money to purchase private health insurance, if even one person (man or woman) on their plan is receiving subsidies from the government.
As we can see, even if a woman receives no government assistance to pay for her insurance, her access to this legal medical procedure will be severely limited by her economic status. In essence, this amendment represents the most destructively regressive measure to women's reproductive rights since before Roe v. Wade.
To illustrate its far-reaching effects, Planned Parenthood offers specific examples of women who would be affected by this ban:
- working mothers in families that annually earn up to $88,000;
- women who are self-employed and paying the entire cost of their coverage;
- young women entering the job market for the first time who are the least likely to have coverage through their employer;
- women who were insured through their husbands' employers, but now are divorced and have to purchase coverage on their own through the [healthcare] Exchange; and women who work in small businesses whose owners decide to seek more affordable, comprehensive coverage through the Exchange.
Classist Repercussions of the Amendment
As these examples illustrate, this amendment is a horrific blow to the reproductive rights of lower and middle income women. It essentially bans abortion for those without disposable financial resources and for those who depend on health insurance to cover legal medical procedures (i.e., what health insurance is designed for).
Women are the ones who are most likely in need of healthcare coverage and they're the ones who are being most harmed by these compromises. Planned Parenthood explains that "Women tend to be in lower-wage or part-time jobs that don't offer insurance, move in and out of the workforce because of childbearing and child rearing responsibilities, and become uninsured because of divorce or death of a spouse."
It is for this reason that stripping women of their abortion coverage not only gives them an onerous and unnecessary burden, but also viciously targets those who most need healthcare reform. Besides, restricting access to abortion does not stop people from having abortions. Instead, it leads to much more dangerous alternatives--such as attempts to self-abort, or delaying the procedure until funds, permission, transportation are acquired (increasing the danger and expense of the actual procedure). Furthermore, this amendment is in express violation of President Obama's promise that citizens could retain their current healthcare benefits if they desire.
Responding to this criticism, supporters of the amendment have proposed an insultingly unrealistic "solution": women could buy supplemental insurance to provide abortion coverage. Beyond the unlikelihood of insurance companies offering such an add-on, who approaches healthcare by asking themselves "what unexpected medical emergencies should I expect to have?" No one plans for an unplanned pregnancy or severe fetal anomalies or bankruptcy, or the many other complex reasons behind a woman's choice to have an abortion. However, with no access to resources, women lose their ability to make responsible choices about their bodies.
Sexist Insinuations of the Amendment
This amendment is inherently misogynistic. This "compromise" was proposed by Democrat, Bart Stupak (MI) and Republican Joe Pitts (PA) to persuade other anti-choice members of Congress to vote for the Affordable Health Care for America Act. However, the only apparent concession required to bridge the parties was the elimination of women's abortion coverage. Therefore, this amendment is effectively a bribe: putting in place an exponentially more restrictive anti-choice agenda in exchange for these opponents' votes. The implications are that women's rights are disposable for the grander goal of healthcare. But for whom is this healthcare intended if it requires truncating the rights of over half the population to achieve it?
It's easy for some people to overlook the gravity of Stupak-Pitts and the lives it will affect if they won't be directly affected by this amendment (like supposedly celibate priests who pressured this) or those who have enough financial resources to buy their reproductive choices (like politicians).
And this disregard for women's rights flourishes only because people aren't more aware of it, don't think it applies to them, or are complacent to the cheery light of the "progress" of health reform. Even progressive organizations were quick to celebrate the passage of the health reform bill, neglecting to mention the devastating blow to women's rights that it contained. As LGBT folks know, compromise is a dangerous political strategy and it is through this "taking one for the team" that human rights are carelessly annihilated by those in charge.
In this case, "taking one for the team" doesn't require men to abandon any coverage for their sexual health, as plans will continue to cover Viagra, vasectomies, and other procedures exclusive to men, including treatment for testicular cancer and prostate exams. (Does anyone else see a correlation between one's social privileges and one's obligation to "take one for the team?")
But this amendment represents more than just nitpicking discrepancies in "compromises." Instead, it codifies insidious views about abortion and the women who have them. Abortion is such a highly politicized issue that brings to surface the most negative views about women and their sexuality. Stereotypes about women who have abortions consistently epitomize everything that a "good" woman isn't--an irresponsible, immoral, baby-killing whore. (This line of politics always disregards the women who may fit their model of ideal femininity-- heterosexual, married, church-going wives and mothers, who can't afford to care for another child or whose pregnancy is complicated by severe fetal anomalies.)
These dehumanizing stereotypes make it easy for castigatory viewpoints, such as those expressed in the Stupak-Pitts amendment, to become law. Some defenders of the amendment are blatantly incriminating, saying that now women should "finally become responsible for their reproductive rights instead of relying on the government to pay for it" (a sentiment which is as sexist as it is incorrect: as mentioned earlier, the Hyde Amendment already prohibits government funding for abortions).
These arguments and this amendment reduce abortion coverage to little more a "sin tax" that a woman should have to pay for out of pocket (or, rather, penance for her debauchery-- remember, Catholic priests were behind this).
Although there are many medical instances when such a punitive model would not be utilized (will smokers be made to pay for lung cancer treatment?) - viewpoints surrounding abortion are so charged with blame that it becomes easy to discount "these women" as deserving whatever hardships they may face. Is this the sort of reform that we want?
Ultimately, while there are many exciting things about this healthcare reform plan, it won't be exciting unless it provides comprehensive coverage for all Americans (52% is a good place to start). No healthcare plan can be perfect, but we can't settle for such a callous disregard of human rights to acquiesce to the ideologies of others. Instead of putting women's lives in jeopardy because of ideological abstractions about "life," what about prioritizing the lives that currently exist as independent entities and need real healthcare change? It is possible to have healthcare without resorting to the sexist, classist, and castigatory model offered by the Stupak-Pitts amendment. But we need your help to make sure this amendment doesn't become reality.
How to Take Action:
Even if you are not directly affected by this amendment, women need your help!
We need all of the help we can get to make sure that this amendment doesn't get passed in the Senate and become law. Health reform is possible without compromising human rights.
Don't be daunted by the many suggestions! Instead, please consider helping in whatever ways you can.
(Click the links for more information!)
Many petitions are circulating online and signing your name is a quick way to help.
Here's a list:
Tell President Obama to stand up for women's health and rights (from Planned Parenthood Federation of America)
Tell President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "Don't let backdoor deals lead to back alley abortions" (from AlterNet)
Call on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to block the Stupak Amendment (from People for the American Way)
Stand with the more than 40 pro-choice Democratic congresswomen who have signed a letter to Nancy Pelosi (from the Bold Progressives)
Tell your representatives you want them to sign the letter to Nancy Pelosi (from the Center for Reproductive Rights)
Tell the vulnerable House Democrats who voted against the Stupak Amendment and for health care reform that "We've Got Your Back" (from the Daily Kos)
Petition to Senate Leader Harry Reid to tell him to Stop Abortion Coverage Ban (from NARAL)
Petition to Congress (from Stopstupak.com)
Petition from Barbara Boxer, Senator from California (Barbara Boxer)
Petition from Democratic Congresswomen (Progressive Change Campaign Committee)
CALL YOUR SENATOR
Click on the link to find your senator's phone number. It's not that scary to do! It takes 30 seconds and no one will be angry and yell at you on the other side.
EMAIL YOUR SENATOR
NOW's web site has information, contact information for your senators, and a sample letter.
For NY activists: On Dec. 4 NOW will rally in front of Senator Schumer's office from noon until 2pm.
For Chicago activists: December 2nd, Thompson Center in Chicago, December 2, 11:30 - 1:00
For Boston activists: December 2nd, Students against Stupak in calling your senators at 4:00-4:30 outside the Holyoke Center in Harvard Square
For activists in other locations: Organize a protest wherever you may be!
CONTACT CONGRESS & PRESIDENT OBAMA
Send them an email and tell them that you do not support health reform if it takes away rights from women (click the link--there's a sample letter).
Planned Parenthood and NOW are lobbying senators in DC on December 2nd. If you live near or can travel to DC, please help. Check out the web site for more information.
If you can, please consider donating to Planned Parenthood, the National Network of Abortion Funds, National Organization for Women, or your local women's health center (make sure it's not one of those fake "pregnancy crisis centers," though!). After all, it seems that when leaders can callously wave away our coverage, these pro-choice organizations are doing everything they can to connect rights to resources.
PASS IT ON
Send this information to everyone you can: through facebook, twitter, email, even discussions at the Thanksgiving or dinner table. Because it's easy to politicize and demonize abortion when it's an abstract and impersonal issue. However, the average is an abortion per woman per lifetime. So even if you think you are removed from the issue, it's much closer than you think, and your daughters, sisters, mothers, family, and friends need to have the resources to make responsible decisions about their lives.