Back on the Air! AFD Ep 48 – June Recap

Latest Episode:
“AFD Ep 48 – June Recap”
Posted: Tues, 02 July 2013

In the first episode of the summer at the new studio, my new co-host, Persephone, joins me to discuss the Voting Rights Act decision, the DOMA and Prop 8 cases, Wendy Davis, Obama’s climate speech, and Syria. This online version of the episode includes a much longer debate on the Syria problem.

Why the Stupak Amendment is so bad

Perhaps the United States House of Representatives believes that all men are created equal—but it does not believe that all women are created equal, or that women are equal to men. These views it has made clear with the passage of the Stupak Amendment, which limits the right to choose for women who can afford to pay for an abortion up front, or for women who can afford a private insurer whose policy covers abortion.

As for the rest, well, that’s what coathangers are for.

HR-3962 describes itself as “[an act t]o provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans.” Abortion is legal in the United States to provide quality health care; in delivering the opinion of the Court on Roe v. Wade, Justice Blackmun explicitly stated that one reason for legalizing abortion was that, unregulated, it was deadly, but regulated it was much safer: “Mortality rates for women undergoing early abortions, where the procedure is legal, appear to be as low as or lower than the rates for normal childbirth. (…) The prevalence of high mortality rates at illegal “abortion mills” strengthens, rather than weakens, the State’s interest in regulating the conditions under which abortions are performed.” The passage of the Stupak Amendment, then, undermines the purpose of the healthcare reform bill, because it does not provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans. Not only does it bar the public health option from covering abortion, it also bars people who receive “affordability credits”—reduced premiums granted to people with lower income levels—from using those credits to purchase an insurance plan that covers abortion.

The consequences will be exactly those that Roe v. Wade tried to prevent: despite abortion limitations and bans, women will get them anyway, and the risks they incur will be much more severe.

In the United States, abortion is a legal medical procedure. For a bill whose purpose is to provide affordable healthcare to explicitly ban funding for abortions is absurd. Furthermore, the Stupak Amendment makes it in private health insurance companies’ best interest to take abortion coverage out of their policies: because of affordability credits, more people will be able to buy government-subsidized private health insurance, but only companies that don’t provide abortion coverage will see any of that new money. They can get more customers through the insurance exchange if the new customers get subsidies, but they can only get those customers if they don’t include abortion coverage.

I should add that this amendment is not about saving a fetal life, but about using pregnancy as punishment for sexual activity. If it were equating a fetus to a child, it would not permit abortion in cases of rape or incest; killing a child because it is the result of incest or rape would still be infanticide.

Many women simply cannot afford children or even childbirth right now—and given that many health insurance companies will not cover a c-section if a women has already had one, and that over 30% of births are c-sections, that’s understandable (the lowest price estimation I have seen for an uninsured c-section is $5,000, and most are upwards of $10,000 assuming everything goes smoothly). Consequently, the Stupak Amendment puts women in a damned-if-we-do, damned-if-we-don’t position.

Advocates for free-market capitalism ought to oppose the Stupak Amendment because it imposes a de facto artificial handicap on health insurance companies, without allowing customers to vote with their money. Advocates for socialism ought to object to this gross gap in healthcare provision between rich and poor women. Women ought to object because their rights are being stripped. Men ought to object because their lovers, daughters, sisters and friends could soon find themselves in the emergency room –or in a coffin– after an unsafe abortion. This amendment benefits no one and is a dangerous step backward for everyone.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

Democratic candidates and Choice

There’s been a lot of controversy within the Democratic base over the Stupak Amendment, which we’ll be covering more later. Essentially, it’s an amendment by the so-called “pro-life Democrats” in the House and would place de facto restrictions on abortion accessibility if it passes both chambers of Congress. Without going into the amendment itself much, I wanted to look at a point this raises on the role of the Choice issue in the Democratic Party and how it relates to Democratic candidacies.

I obviously can’t speak for all base Democrats, but I think many of us made the critical mistake of underestimating the potential influence of the anti-choice/pro-life caucus within our party in Congress. For example, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA, elected 2006) has been a pretty good Senator so far, but everyone knew he ran as a “pro-life Democrat,” but most of us especially outside Pennsylvania probably thought very little on that point. Of course, some liberal pro-choice activists were rightly worried because Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the major 1992 Supreme Court revision of Roe v. Wade, refers to Bob Casey Sr. who was then the Governor of Pennsylvania and supported a fairly strict abortion restriction law — and it was reasonable to wonder if the father’s views were shared by the junior Senator from Pennsylvania.

As it turns out, yes that appears to be the case:

Now some Senate Democrats, including Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, are pushing to incorporate the same [Stupak] restrictions in their own bill. Senior Senate Democratic aides said the outcome was too close to call.

 
I sincerely hope that the Senate does not pass the Casey-Nelson version of Stupak into the Senate health care reform bill (and the signs suggest that it won’t succeed). But that’s not even what I’m looking at here.

The problem as I see it is that I and many others assumed that at the federal legislative level, abortion law was largely a settled matter for the most part. I know many activists who are dedicated in particular to this issue didn’t share that view, but I’m willing to admit they were right and I was wrong on this. I figured that if the Republicans had used nearly uninterrupted control of the whole Congress for twelve years and the White House and the House for six years, but had failed to outlaw abortion, then it was pretty much secure. There were restrictions such as the misleadingly named “partial-birth abortion ban,” but the Republicans were upfront about their hope of banning abortion and they failed. I assumed that pro-Choice Democrats, who do form a majority of the caucus, would be able to keep the “pro-Life” Democrats in check.

So for Casey and other candidates, I figured there was probably very little chance for them to put their views to a vote, and if it did come up I forgot that pro-life Republicans and Democrats would be able to vote in unison to form a majority as they did on the Stupak House amendment. It almost seemed like some Democratic candidates who took pro-life pledges might just have been pandering with no intention of casting damaging votes. And I think I was wrong.

That leads us to a question on how to view pro-life candidates in future. Obviously there are a lot of Democrats who have more conservative opinions on abortion, and that means there’s a role for pro-life candidates. On the other hand, and more importantly, I think a majority of the Democratic base supports the right to choose and women are certainly a majority of the Democratic Party’s membership nationally. The Stupak Amendment is a political problem for the party because it makes it look like the party is “throwing women under the bus,” as many have said in the past few days.

I think we may have reached a day of reckoning on this issue. The Democratic Party is going to face severe electoral difficulties if it doesn’t quickly resolve its position on abortion rights. In future election cycles, I think that activists, the ones who donate their time and money to elect Democrats, are going to be extremely wary of engaging with candidates who oppose the right to choose. We’ve now seen that they’re a real threat to the right to choose, not just a stated or theoretical threat. This is an intra-party policy contradiction that the party leaders have kicked down the road for years. That doesn’t look like an option anymore. Unfortunately, this has never been an issue that party leaders like to discuss openly, even though it needs to be discussed.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.