Dear Progressive Allies in Health Care Reform: Where Were You on the Stupak Amendment?

Update, 11/12/09: This morning, Thursday, November 12, one of our staff received an email from seeking to raise funds for Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy, representative from Ohio who voted against the Stupak Amendment.  The email clearly rallies the membership against the Stupak Amendment. We are waiting to see if is sending out a nationwide email on the Stupak Amendment but are appreciative of this effort. 

Dear progressive allies,

I know that abortion access is one of the most divisive issues of our time. I understand that politics is one giant game. But it’s a game that has true benefits when it’s played right – and when we stick together. 

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I have seen this kind of unity when it comes to the anti-choice Stupak Amendment. In my email inbox, I’m getting elation-infused emails from, my state Democratic party, Americans for Democratic Action, even SEIU. Organizations for which I have tremendous respect – truly. But even as your emails proclaim that "the fight is far from over", none of you mention the heinous hit women’s access to abortion care took when this House bill was passed.

Not one of your emails even references the fight pro-choice legislators and women’s health advocates have ahead of us. Not one of your emails touches on the ways in which abortion access is critical to a broader progressive agenda. Women’s reproductive and sexual health care access is tied to women’s rights, of course, but also to environmental sustainability, maternal health, immigrants’ rights, LGBTI rights, newborn health, healthy economies, and more. How can it be that somehow abortion access has been largely ignored by other progressive organizations working for health care reform?

Women make up at least half of all of your constituencies. It would stand to follow, then, that the passage of this bill with the inclusion of the Stupak Amendment would be of tremendous interest, at the very least, to your supporters. Do most women know that Democrats sold them out for health care reform on Saturday? They woudn’t know it from your letter, Washington state Democrats, which came to me via email and asking for money, letting me know that Democrats made history (they sure did!):

Dear Amie,

Saturday evening, the House of Representatives made history when it passed a sweeping health care reform bill, but the battle for affordable health care is not over. 

The heatlh care battle will now move to the Senate. Desperate Republicans are planning a filibuster to destroy any meaningful legislation. Insurance companies are ramping up their campaign of arm-twisting and threats. Right-wing media advocates like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Bill O’Reilly are spreading the politics of fear and doubt in reaction to Saturday’s vote. 

Later in the letter you ask me for money to continue with your effort to fight Republicans. But what of the anti-choice Democrats who pushed for the Stupak Amendment in the first place? Why is there no mention of the Stupak Amendment nor an attempt to educate voters on how Democrats actually voted in regards to the amendment?

Dwight Pelz, the Washington state Democratic Party Chair, told me,

"I think we were all blind-sided by the Stupak Amendment. I do believe that Speaker Pelosi let the bill go out with the Stupak Amendment in it, knowing it could be addressed in the conference committee. It’s become one more hanging issue that has to be resolved – along with the public option, the threat of filibuster, etc."

This does little to placate me, however. The public option is a very different issue than the Stupak Amendment. The Stupak Amendment did not need to be a "hanging issue" at all – if Democrats had not caved to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops or kowtowed to their constituency by creating entirely new ways of enacting anti-choice policies that would roll back women’s rights by decades.

And What happened?

I am still receiving emails from you asking me for money to help your efforts but, still, women’s access to critical reproductive health care in health care reform does not warrant a single mention.

Even as you admit, "The bill that passed in the House was far from perfect, and we’ll keep fighting together to fix it" you still do not find it important enough to rally your progressive base against the Stupak Amendment in the House or work to educate members to ensure something similar does not wind up in the Senate version. 

You tell me,

Dear MoveOn member,

We won a big victory on health care on Saturday when the House of Representatives passed a bill that includes a public health
insurance option.

But dozens of conservative Democrats sided with Big Insurance to vote against it.

We’ve got to show that voters will make them pay a political price for standing in the way of health care reform—and
send a message to any Democrats in the Senate who are considering doing the same.

So we’re rushing to launch a major new TV ad campaign in the home districts of the Democrats
who voted against the bill
—spending more than ever before on ads to hold Democrats accountable.

What will you do to make sure women’s access to legal abortion care doesn’t disappear? Will your campaign address this?, I am not alone. There was even a twitter campaign that sprung from the frustration of similar-minded folks, spreading the word,

" can go suck it. email asking for $ 2 fight Dems who voted against #HCR. no mention of #stupak."

The sentiment is, um, clear. It may be that the lack of mention is a strategic move, Or it may be that you just don’t deem this issue important enough to mention to your members. But it is.

I will not donate money to you to create an ad campaign that does not address anti-choice Democrats’ plan to wipe out both private and public abortion coverage.

If you’d like an example of an organization whose actions you can emulate, why not check out the Human Rights Campaign? The Human Rights Campaign advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. So lobbying against and publicly opposing an abortion access amendment is not what immediately comes to mind when you think of their legislative priorities. But, in fact, they do think it’s critical. Calling the Stupak Amendment "outrageous", HRC says, "Clearly, anti-choice lawmakers are not satisfied with a federal funding
ban and are using health care reform to carry out their agenda of
making abortion coverage even more difficult to obtain."

And in one line they do what many of our other progressive allies have yet to do, proclaim both their opposition to the amendment as well as their goal to remain unified with pro-choice advocates:

HRC opposes the Stupak-Pitts amendment and will work with our
pro-choice coalition allies to help see that it is removed or revised
as health care reform moves forward.

I hope that as we move forward with health care reform efforts, knowing that we are at a historic place, we can all remember that no one should be left behind. No one should feel sacrificed in this process. No one should come away from these congressional measures with less rights than we went in with. Will the bills be perfect? Of course not. I understand that. I also understand this is a tough battle, long in the making. But if you, our progressive allies, do not stick with us, who will? You understand, of course, that women are not a special interest group. That we are critical to winning and maintaining Democratic seats; not to mention ensuring a Democratic presidency. 

I am asking our progressive allies, as we continue fighting for true health care reform, to remember this: Women’s rights are not a bargaining chip and using legal access to
abortion as a pawn in health care reform is not something women will
stand for. But if you stand with us, we’ll all be stronger for it.  


Amie Newman



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  • douglasjohnson

    The actual substance of the original abortion-related provisions of H.R. 3962 were so sharply at odds with public opinion, among both men and women, that once the matter was actually before the elected lawmakers, there is little surprising about the 240-194 House vote in favor of bringing the bill into line with the principles that have long governed existing federal health programs (i.e., the Hyde Amendment and its progeny).


    The same factor may explain the subsequent muted reaction to the revision among certain enthusiasts for the underlying bill, on which you have remarked.


    For example, the original H.R. 3962 explicitly authorized (on page 110) the "public option," a federal agency health plan, to cover all elective abortions. Federal agencies can only spend federal funds, so this would have been direct federal funding of elective abortion (the claim that a federal agency could pay for abortions with "private" funds was, to put it politely, untenable). A number of recent polls have shown lopsided public opposition to including abortion in government-run or government-subsidized health insurance plans. For example, a September poll by Public Opinions Strategies polls found 58-38% opposition to including abortion in the proposed "public plan." When pollster Rasmussen poll asked in mid-September, "Should health insurance paid for or subsidized with government funding be required to cover abortions, be prohibited from covering abortions, or have no requirements concerning abortions?," 15% said "required" and 48% said "prohibited."


    A summary of recent polls on the subject is posted here:


    In an essay posted this week, Gallup Editor in Chief Frank Newport challenged "a common conception that women in general are more supportive of abortion rights than are men." He noted, "This is not generally backed up by the data. There seems to be minimal gender differences in abortion attitudes." See


    Douglas Johnson

    Legislative Director

    National Right to Life Committee

    Washington, D.C.


    legfederal // at // aol-dot-com

  • julie-watkins

    The Hyde amendment is sexist and classist and should be overturned because it is sexist and classist. The Stupak policy is sexist and classist and should be removed because it is sexist and classist. I don’t like it when abortion polls are used to justify society enforcing nature’s sexism and I’m tired of women and poor people being treated as 2nd class — even if it is more convenient for people who are benefitted by a hierarchical society.

  • steveinnyc

    The email I got from MoveOn does talk about the Stupak Amendment. Sounds like we got two different variations on the same email, mine talking about Stupak and yours not.


    Instead of being mad that MoveOn isn’t riding in to save us, why not blog about what should have been done to head this off and what we can do now. We’re not poor and defenseless, and shouldn’t be acting like this is a surprise or a done deal.

  • steveinnyc

    Here are three groups where you can take action against the Stupak Amendment:


    Progressive Change Campaign Committee:


    Credo Mobile:



  • amie-newman

    that we are by far "poor and defenseless" or that this is a done deal. Not at all and I hope my post doesn’t convey that. I updated my post this morning after one of our staffers received an email from with information about the Stupak Amendment in it; I am grateful to for this. 

    But it would be great if didn’t send an email with information about Stupak in it to only some of its members. Women actually live in all regions of the country as do progressives and we need all the help we can get. I don’t blame though, for any of this. I just want to see as much support as possible. 

    It is incredibly frustrating to receive emails proclaiming such victory from a number of organizations as women’s health and rights are being trampled upon. My state Democratic party is asking me for funds to help Democrats fight Republican attacks with NO mention of Stupak – or those DEMOCRATS who not only voted for the amendment but were responsible for it in the first place?

    I’m so glad you put up links to places where folks can take action against the Stupak Amendment or a similar Senate version. I appreciate that! And I do agree that the reproductive justice movement needs to take responsibility as well – there were a great number of balls dropped here, it looks like. 

    Thanks for the comments – for taking the time to write them and offering us all opportunities to act. 


    Amie Newman

    Managing Editor, RH Reality Check

  • notyourbitch

    We are seething with rage. We are organizing. You are about to witness the Tidal Wave of feminism.

  • arium

    “Please tell me if you agree or disagree with the following statements. The first/next one is… ‘If the government is going to make a public health plan available for all Americans it has an obligation to provide abortion services under that plan.’”

    I wonder if responses to this poll would have been affected if the respondents had knowledge that most private insurance covers abortion today.

    “Should health insurance paid for or subsidized with government funding be required to cover abortions, be prohibited from covering abortions, or have no requirements concerning abortions?”

    I wonder if responses to this poll would have been affected if the respondents had knowledge that under the Capps amendment premiums covering abortion would have been kept segregated and unsubsidized, Douglas’s protestations notwithstanding.