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

Dear progressive allies, I know abortion has been made controversial and politics is a giant game. But we can win if we stick together. So where are 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