Dear Mr. President: Abortion Is Part of Health Care

Today, President Obama, the same man who as a candidate actually promised to push for passage of the Freedom of Choice Act, repeated one of the most over-used lines by the Democratic party when it fails to be truly pro-choice.

The famous "This is a health care bill, not an abortion bill" excuse.

Here is what he said, according to Daily Kos:

President Obama said today that Congress needs to
change abortion-related language in the health care bill passed by the
House of Representatives this weekend that includes tougher
restrictions on abortion funding but said there is more work to be done
before a final piece of legislation gets to his desk.

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.

This "explanation" for why we don’t address the issue of choice in any number of pieces of legislation in which women’s choices are actually profoundly affected is doled out more frequently than DC parking attendants give out tickets.  (And for those who don’t live here, that is a lot.)

But here is a newsflash: Access to safe abortion is part of health care.  A critical, essential component of women’s health care. 

One-fourth of the 600,000 maternal deaths among women worldwide is due to complications of unsafe abortion.  Many times that number are made ill or disabled, or infertile due to complications of unsafe abortion.  Women unable to plan and time their pregnancies not only are likely to be less healthy themselves, they also are less likely to be able to feed, provide health care for and ensure the survival of children they do bear.  In some countries, such as Peru, complications of unsafe abortion are the single greatest cause of maternal death.  In this country, complications of unsafe abortion were indeed a leading cause of maternal death before abortion became legal.

So unless you consider women not to be human, or consider health to be of concern only to men (and yes, I am aware many of you feel this is the case), abortion is a health care issue.

And by definition, the health reform bill is indeed an abortion bill as much as it is a cancer bill, a heart disease bill, a common cold bill or a bill for male erectile dysfunction (treatment of which, is, of course, included under the House bill).

In fact, the Republicans get this connection far more than do the Democrats, who keep trying to campaign and raise money on "pro-choice" platforms, but who apparently feel increasingly comfortable throwing off those cloaks as soon as they get in office, as did Obama and today in his press conference, and Senator Claire McCaskill on MSNBC’s early talk show, Morning Joe.

The Democrats’ increasingly anemic response to the issue of choice is self-fulfilling.  The more afraid they get of standing up for their (supposed) principles, the more they obfuscate on the issue of choice. 

The more they obfuscate, the less credibliity they have with their supporters–the people that actually put them into office–and the more the ultra-right conservative Republicans (and there no longer is another kind) smell blood and become more emboldened about threatening to hold them hostage on the issue. 

The President has exacerbated this by his weak approach to the issue from the beginning of his time in office: Rather than making clear he was as pro-choice in office as he was on the campaign trail, he started a round of "Common Ground" meetings ostensibly intended to find "common ground" on abortion issues.  The fact is: There is no common ground between those who believe in science, evidence, and human rights and conservative religious groups like the Catholic Bishops–who are clearly very powerful in Congress but who object both to abortion and to contraception.  It is in fact an issue on which someone has to take the power to lead.  But the more Obama tries to be Mr. Conciliation, the more time lapses during which those who have no intention and have had no intention in finding "common ground" to make gains on their anti-choice agenda in Congress.  

The main result has been that Obama has lost so much ground unnecessarily he has pissed off the people who put him in office.  If this continues, I’d like to see Pennsylvania and Virginia in the next election…

The President needs to show a little spine.  Today he said:

"[T]he bill cannot change the status quo."

"There are strong feelings on both sides” about an amendment passed on
Saturday and added to the legislation, “and what that tells me is that
there needs to be some more work before we get to the point where we’re
not changing the status quo.”

In an exclusive television interview in the Map Rom of the White
House, Obama told ABC News’ Jake Tapper that he was confident that the
final legislation will ensure that “neither side feels that it’s being

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,” he said.

Moreover, today, according to the Hill, Robert Gibbs completely side-stepped the question about the Stupak Amendment when asked during today’s press conference and indicated the President "wasn’t taking sides."

Why not? Isn’t that why we elected him?  Because he had a "side" on this issue?

Why won’t the President come out and say he opposes it?  Why won’t he underscore the very values he espoused on the campaign trail?  Why does he feel he needs to appease any of the far right on this?

Mr. President: Abortion is health care.  And until you understand and can say that, we are going to continue to have a problem passing this bill.


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  • alison-cole

    …and I agree with so much of what you have to say here. However, I think that ultimately the president has the right idea when he says, “This isn’t an abortion bill.” Would I love to see Hyde repealed? Of course. But we need healthcare reform, and so we need to make this fight not a fight about abortion. We need to agree that the abortion status quo won’t get changed with this bill. If the Stupak amendment shows us anything it is that singling abortion out in the context of healthcare reform is a bad choice for the country, for the conversation, and for the future of healthcare reform.

  • progo35

    Dear Mr. President:
    Thank you for encouraging legislators to vote to pass health care for all Americans even if some of them may have felt that the Stupak ammendment is imperfect, instead of holding up that process while people bickered about it. Thank you that many people in the USA will now be able to get healthcare that previously couldn’t. If you can now encourage and ensure that the bill does not contain ableist or ageist rationing, I think that the American people will be very happy. Thank you.

    "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • jodi-jacobson

    I understand your points…and agree in principle. However, the fact is that this and every other single bill does become about abortion because it is never placed anymore in the context of health care, but posited as a separate issue.

    It is a basic human right of women to determine whether and when to be pregnant and whether and when to have children.  Abortion is legal in this country and is performed by medical professionals. 

    I think we are in this situation in part because astoundingly the White House did not think through its strategy, and the very fact that the President never said: "Abortion is part of women’s comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care.  I am pro-choice and was elected on that basis.  We have policies in place that strike this balance now and will not change them in this bill, so abortion care will remain off the table as a lightening rod in health reform."

    Instead, there is always the discomfort, the surprise when the issue comes up, the tendency to try to avoid.  If abortion is part of health care, then any bill about healthcare that is so far reaching is also about abortion.  That is different than saying we are going to use this bill to change those policies now in place.

    I really believe unless and until so-called pro-choice Dems understand and embrace that this is in fact part of health care, we are treating it as a "separate" and stigmatized issue.


    Best, Jodi

  • leftcoaster

    so there goes your theory. Once again, the obstructionists (representing a minority opinion) get away with it and women’s health interests are tossed under the bus.


    This is even remotely acceptable to you? HOW?


    I’m a little surprised that the homophobic lobby hasn’t succeeded in denying federal funding to AIDS treatment, but then again, even that is considered more humanitarian than indulging women in their non-procreative sexual pursuits, I suppose.


    This is no shockeroo for *me* with respect to Obama. I saw it coming 18 months ago, when he staked his claim to progressive causes on his "opposition to" the Iraq war. If anyone believes a Sen. Obama would have voted against sending troops to Baghdad in 2003, raise your hand. The guy is a likeable community organizer with a law degree. Period. He has no guts, and this recent act has me livid.

  • leftcoaster

    Apparently you aren’t familiar with the actual implications of this amendment.


    Nonetheless, are you remotely familiar with this bill at all? Do you understand that it’s not okay to just "get reform" if that so-called "reform" will make the problem worse? How is mandating regulation on insurers and not setting their prices going to work? You think individual health plans are unaffordable now? What will happen once insurers are forced to take all who come through the door and barred from denying claims?


    I can understand laypeople not having a grasp on economics, but Congress? It’s their job.