Stupak and Health Reform’s Second Trimester


In the (political) heat of late March, in the first trimester of President Obama’s proposed, and then signed, Executive Order “codifying” The Hyde Amendment (a deal done for Rep. Bart Stupak, he of the Stupak Amendment), in order to get the President’s healthcare reform legislation, “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”) passed, I called on the Speaker of the House, the women U.S. Senators, and the leaders of the national pro-choice organizations to call for aborting the Executive Order. 

They didn’t, and a few days later, surrounded, (only, and with no press present), by Bart Stupak and his equally rabid, anti-choice ring members, the President signed Mr. Stupak’s evil Order.

Why was I so direct, so inflammatory in my call-to-action? Well, exactly because I wanted to sound a very loud alarm, for fear of what might be coming down the pike, if we failed to “bust the cap” on this disingenuous (keep reading) Executive Order. I feared that unless we busted it, we’d be faced with just the sort of (hatred-of-women) next steps we’ve–surprise, surprise– experienced this week.

You ask: What happened? I thought this was a great week, what with financial reform and capping the BP oil well and all? Well, not so fast, it turns out.

Turns out, earlier this week, in this, the (equally hot, politically), but second trimester of the President’s Hyde-redux-and-more, Stupak-evil, though the President said otherwise, (keep reading) Executive Order, it became clear that the White House had instructed Kathleen Sibelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, to avoid any dustups about abortion in her regs’-writing for the healthcare reform bill, no matter the cost to America in the loss of American women’s lives.

How to do this?

Well, for starters, deny women, any woman in any state, even a woman proposing to spend her own money (lest there be any doubt about how The White House really feels about abortion), from obtaining an abortion, if she’s (we thought lucky, but how wrong we were), a member of her state’s high-risk insurance pool, part of the President’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act).

No matter, the lives of women in ill health (and, therefore, in the high-risk pool), for whom an abortion might be a vitally needed medical procedure. The President’s poll numbers are in the dumpster. Unless you’ve been raped, are a victim of incest, or your life has been endangered, you’re SOL.

Mr. President: A word to the wise:  Better not further jeopardize your standing, when we’re not sure whether the BP cap won’t go bust. Mr. President:  A word to the wise, even if it becomes clear you’ve gone back on your staff’s statements that your Stupak-evil Order doesn’t do anything more than “codify” existing law. Better to continue to say, albeit falsely, that the Stupak Amendment you once said you wouldn’t abide (either) wouldn’t be a part of anything you do. This abortion matter? Well, it’s just too touchy to do otherwise (even if “otherwise” is the right thing for half of all Americans).

In fact, and as we all know, the Executive Order was nothing but a most willingly made sop to Rep. Stupak. For, after all (after months and months and months of all—all that healthcare wrangling), it was Mr. Stupak’s vote that stood in the way of passage of the healthcare reform law, the one for the history books the President most wanted.

As such, the Executive Order’s creation and signing was a deeply hypocritical and cynical act.  “Hypocritical,” because it did not do (only) what the President’s men said it would do—“codify” existing law, i.e., The Hyde Amendment. “Cynical,” because the Order’s utility depended on the willingness of White House women-leader allies to suspend disbelief, and say: Oh, yes, we agree, when you say that this isn’t going beyond The Hyde Amendment (knowing that it did).

Do you think for one minute that Bob Bauer, the President’s campaign and personal, political lawyer, now his White House Counsel, didn’t know all the potential ramifications (read: opportunities) of the Executive Order—both for the law and for the politics—when he directed his staff to draft the Executive Order?

Do you think for one minute that Don Verrilli, an Associate White House Counsel, rumored to be appointed U.S. Solicitor General–once Elena Kagan is confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice–missed this either? 

Not, hardly: These guys are really, really smart. These guys don’t miss these things: That’s why they are doing what they are doing. That’s why they are where they are.

Putting the best face on it, Mr. Bauer and Mr. Verrilli saw what the White House women-leader allies also saw, and, again, like the pro-choice leaders, didn’t protest, for fear the whole healthcare reform applecart would be upset.

But, make no mistake:  Mr. Bauer and Mr. Verrilli also saw the Executive Order as a useful context for massaging federal healthcare reform regulations that could help diminish dustups over abortion; dustups never good for a President or a President’s men’s futures.

Why was the Executive Order AT ALL NECESSARY if all it did was “codify” existing law? The answer is it wasn’t, because it didn’t. And now we’re in the dumpster: Read here:

So now, in the Executive Order’s second trimester, we have the leaders of our pro-choice movement asking the government to “reconsider” (Marcia Greenberger for the National Women’s Law Center); expressing their “deep disappointment,” and calling on us to protest (Cecile Richards for Planned Parenthood); and remonstrating that these regulations are neither necessary as a legal matter (for they go beyond The Hyde Amendment), nor useful as a policy matter (because the women most likely to be in the state-based high risk pools are among those most likely to have complications from pregnancy and therefore needing an abortion (Laura Murphy for the ACLU)).

Like I said:  The Executive Order should have been aborted.

I’ve argued in these pages for many months that the ameliorative approach national pro-choice leaders have pursued with this Presidential administration –pursued both by the leaders representing the big organizations, and by those making the laws in Congress–is fatally flawed. I think we now have proof. [It’s a short distance from the dumpster to the graveyard.]

Further, I believe this acquiescence, and its requisite suspension of disbelief, has led to the abandonment of American women in most need, i.e., to the presence of anti-choice wolves at their doorsteps, in every state.

The strategy is accomodationist. It’s post-facto. It violates the first rule of organizing to win (on the people’s behalf):  Know your bottom line, and how to get it, before you walk into any meeting. Otherwise, don’t walk in:  Scream, holler, embarrass, and demand, until you’re on equal footing and can negotiate a fair deal.

Sure, I’ll negotiate with you ad nauseum, instead of refusing to participate until my demand for equal treatment is met (Barbara Boxer in the Senate). Sure, I’ll send threatening letters with no force of law or policy (Diana DeGette in the House), in hopes that you’ll do the right thing. Sure, I’ll support you when you tell me it’s a good idea to (only) “codify” in an Executive Order something, (The Hyde Amendment), which, by any measure, has been horrible for women for over two generations (The Speaker and her pro-choice Member leaders). Sure, I’ll believe you when you say that this Executive Order won’t have any additional force of law in any upcoming circumstance that matters to women’s health (again, the Speaker and the women Members).  Sure, I’ll believe you, Mr. President–when you sign Mr. Stupak’s evil Order–with no press present and surrounded by the architects of hateful acts against my sisters–when you tell me nothing is amiss.

In no way that I can see is this a strategy for winning the war to protect America’s women and ensure their equal rights. This is appeasement. And history tells us that, until appeasement is set aside, people die. Today, in America, those dead people will be American women.

“Bust the cap (on it);” bust the cap on this well of cowardice.

Earlier this week, I drove across upstate New York on my way home to Chicago. Mid-afternoon, I approached the Thruway exit for Seneca Falls. I thought:  Why not stop?  Why not pay my respects to our foremothers, to women who wouldn’t know acquiescence or appeasement if it hit them over the head.  So, I did. And here’s what I got to read when I got there:

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

“….[W]hen a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them [American women] under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government…Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity, which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.”

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  • nycprochoicemd

    Thanks for calling out the anemic protests that have been launched by the organizations who are supposed to be defending abortion rights.  I’ve had enough with having to concede one thing after another after another.  The Stupak amendment was (arguably) slightly improved with the Nelson amendment, and we were supposed to be happy about that.  I’m not happy and I’m sick of the lack of power and leadership displayed by NAF, NARAL and PPFA.