Will the Senate Stand Against Stupak?

"That's the price of healthcare reform." That's what pundits have told those of us making a fuss over the Stupak amendment, but is it?

This was originally posted at TheNation.com and reprinted here with permission.

"That’s the price of healthcare reform." That’s what plenty of oh-so-well-meaning pundits have told those of us making a fuss
over the Stupak amendment, the late-night attachment to the House
healthcare reform bill that will leave virtually any woman accessing
insurance through the health insurance exchange without abortion
coverage. (Another argument that’s cropped up is that the Stupak
amendment won’t actually affect abortion access for that many women, a
claim that’s based on faulty analysis of Guttmacher data on billing for
abortion care, as Adam Sonfield explains.)

But both pro-choice and progressive healthcare reform leaders and
members of Congress have come out swinging against the amendment, some
going as far as to make it clear they’ll refuse to support reform if
Congressional Democrats decide to pay for it with women’s healthcare.
Calling the amendment a "middle-class abortion ban," Planned Parenthood
president Cecile Richards said Wednesday that her organization would not
support healthcare reform with an amendment further limiting access to
abortion. Meanwhile, Senators Barbara Mikulski and Diane Feinstein have
begun strategizing how to keep Stupak off the Senate bill, the New York Times reports.

"Keeping Stupak off the Senate bill is our primary goal right now,"
Laurie Rubiner, PPFA vice-president, said, "and chances are very good
for that." "We’re definitely hearing a lot of encouraging talk [about
the Senate]," Donna Crane, public policy director at NARAL Pro-Choice
America, adds. "The Senate thinks the House went too far."

Sen. Ben Nelson has grabbed headlines with the announcement that he
won’t support the Senate healthcare reform bill unless it, too, bans
coverage of abortion for any plan financed in part by affordability
credits, but advocates were doubtful that he could get the 60 votes
necessary to have the bill considered. "If someone wants to offer this
very radical amendment, which would really tear apart [a decades-long]
compromise, then I think at that point they would need to have 60 votes
to do it," Sen. Barbara Boxer told the Huffington Post. "It is a much more pro-choice
Senate than it has been in a long time, and it is much more pro-choice
than the House." "Ben Nelson is looking for any excuse to vote against
healthcare reform," Rubiner says. "It’s abortion today, it was the
public plan yesterday."

NARAL, though it is running a petition asking Sen. Harry Reid to
keep Stupak-like language off the Senate bill, has not yet drawn a line
in the sand. "We don’t have an answer to that question," Crane told me
when I asked whether NARAL would support a healthcare reform bill with
Stupak-like language attached. But the group’s rhetoric is strong: in Politico, Nancy Keenan, NARAL president, said that "we are prepared to stop
at nothing."

In order to fight the abortion restrictions successfully, the
coalition needs to extend "beyond the women’s health community,"
Richards said Wednesday. And
indeed some of the most prominent progressive voices for healthcare
reform are supporting joining the women’s health advocates’ fight.
Health Care for America Now, the leading grassroots progressive
coalition for reform, and its high-profile members, MoveOn and SEIU,
have all decried Stupak. When asked how committed HCAN is to
securing healthcare reform without further curtailing abortion access,
National Campaign Director Richard Kirsch said, "It’s a very strong
commitment. We have a set of principles, one is comprehensive benefits,
including reproductive health benefits which includes abortion care."
Still, Kirsch acknowledged, it’s possible HCAN could take a position
against healthcare reform with major concessions on reproductive
healthcare while some of its members decide to do the opposite.

But some pro-choice advocates clearly feel progressive groups, if
not HCAN in particular, are sending mixed signals. On Rewire, Amie Newman bemoaned an
inbox-full of email from progressive advocacy groups who didn’t even
mention Stupak. She later received an email from MoveOn acknowledging
the compromise on women’s health, but not mobilizing MoveOn members to
take action on the issue. Rubiner, however, said that "we’ve been
talking with MoveOn and they’ll be part of our mobilization."

Citing a "standing-room-only" meeting with progressive groups at the
PPFA offices strategizing how to respond to Stupak, Richards said,
"There’s a fair amount of solidarity. It has to be clear that we will
not support a bill with Stupak."

Readers concerned about the Stupak amendment can join Planned
Parenthood in DC on December 2 for a National Lobby
and can sign on to NARAL’s petition to Sen. Reid.