And to think all this time I thought the public option was the most controversial element of reform. Silly Me! Some lawmakers managed to convince House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to include an amendment in the House bill barring the use of federal subsidies to pay for insurance that covers elective abortion. That means only in the case of rape, incest, or a threat to the life of the mother could such subsidies be used. Needless to say, while enough lawmakers found this acceptable to get the bill passed in the House, some were furious.
You know what? They’ve got a right to be mad. This amendment, a bone to moderate Democratic House members, makes abortion available only to those who can afford it. It is a backhanded way of telling poor women that a group of lawmakers, most of them men, still want to be able to tell them what to do with their bodies. That the Speaker of the House is a woman is tragically ironic, but no excuse. Neither is the political expediency that this “deal” represents.
Now the same debate is about to begin in the Senate. One Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, has already said he won’t vote for the bill unless the Senate version is as restrictive as that passed by the House. Who needs Republicans when you’ve got guys like this? Senate Republicans, by the way, wouldn’t vote for this bill if it restricted abortion, banned any care for illegal immigrants, and eliminated the public option. They’re simply the Part of No, meaning if Democrats crafted it, they can’t vote for it.
President Obama, to his credit, wants the House language on abortion eliminated from the final bill. He’s right when he says it’s a healthcare bill, not an abortion bill. Yet the House amendment presents the clearest gauntlet thrown down yet by so-called moderate Democrats. They presented Pelosi with an all or nothing at all scenario, leading a number of progressive Democrats to threaten a scenario of their own.
It all boils down to a couple of simple questions. Is the prospect of insuring 36 million Americans worth forcing some women to give up their right to choose? Will moderate Senate Democrats, if Majority Leader Harry Reid caves on abortion, then go after the public option? Where exactly do folks draw the line? When does the unpalatable become unacceptable? Keep in mind that unlike Nancy Pelosi, Reid opposes a woman’s right to choose.
Looks like it’s cards on the table time. But who will blink first? You tell me.