A long, long time ago, I was working for a fundraising firm. One of our biggest clients was NARAL -- then the National Abortion Rights Action League, now NARAL Pro-Choice America. One of my jobs was to identify and counter common objections to fundraising appeals and someone came to me with one that I thought was pretty much a gimme. People were objecting that, while they were supportive of a woman's right to choose, they were also sympathetic to complaints by anti-abortion types that they shouldn't have to their tax dollars paying for abortion. This just wouldn't be fair.
The first words out of my mouth were, "What makes them so special?" After all, the number of Americans who can't point to some use of taxpayer money that they're against is probably so tiny as to be almost non-existent. By this argument, should Quakers be forced to pay for the military, should environmentalists be forced to subsidize roadbuilding in wilderness areas, should privacy advocates have to fund the NSA and human right supporters have to foot the bill for Gitmo? From the death penalty to war to torture to domestic surveillance, people are forced to pay for things they passionately oppose. Setting abortion aside, as if it were somehow a special circumstance for "pro-life" taxpayers, would be absurd -- akin to letting animal rights activists skip on paying for the meat portion of meals served to military personnel.
But, in Washington, never bet against the absurd. When the legislative sausage is made, a key ingredient is often a heaping scoop of stupid. Or, as was the case this weekend, Stupak.
See, the House passage of a healthcare reform bill this weekend came with a price. Ambulance services wouldn't be covered, because of the deep religious beliefs of the Amish. No, wait. I misread that. Anti-abortion people won't have to pay for abortions. In fact, no one will. Abortion, a legal medical procedure, has been made all but illegal for insurers to cover. For this, we can thank Rep. Bart Stupak and 240 members of Congress. Many of those voting to add the measure voted against the final bill anyway -- the entire reform bill passed 220-215.
Stupak, a Blue Dog Democrat and member of the C Street cult "the family," managed to get a vote on his amendment at the last minute. And not without a lot of behind-the-scenes drama.
One by one, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had leaned on her rank-and-file Democrats for months to cast off personal prerogatives for the sake of a history-making health care bill.
But for Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, this was too much to ask.
So when Pelosi announced late Friday that she would allow an amendment strictly limiting insurance coverage of abortions, it touched off an angry yelling match between DeLauro and another Pelosi confidant, California Rep. George Miller, and tears from some veteran female lawmakers, according to people in the room.
Some of the lawmakers argued that Pelosi was turning her back on a decades-long campaign by female Democratic members in support of abortion rights. Miller rose to Pelosi’s defense, which resulted in an angry confrontation between him and DeLauro, said the sources.
To get the skinny on what the Stupak amendment would actually mean, it shouldn't surprise anyone that I turned to NARAL:
The Stupak-Pitts amendment forbids any plan offering abortion coverage in the new system from accepting even one subsidized customer. Since more than 80 percent of the participants in the exchange will be subsidized, it seems certain that all health plans will seek and accept these individuals. In other words, the Stupak-Pitts amendment forces plans in the exchange to make a difficult choice: either offer their product to 80 percent of consumers in the marketplace or offer abortion services in their benefits package. It seems clear which choice they will make.
As I said, under the amendment, covering abortion will become all but illegal. Anti-abortion types won't have to pay for abortions and neither will anyone else. Meanwhile, you'll still be buying Viagra. No controversy in covering that.
Still, it seems likely that the House bill wouldn't have passed if it weren't for the amendment. Apparently, 240 House members believe that people's objection to abortion are more important than your objections to war or the death penalty or whatever various and sundry nightmares you're paying for. And 64 of those were Democrats. I know how my rep voted, you might want to see which way yours went. I don't get to yell at Rep. Tammy Baldwin very often, so do me a favor and yell at yours if they're among the yeas, OK?
But I guess that's how the sausage is made; two steps forward, one step back. It isn't pretty and it isn't fair, it just is. And that's why it never ends. We like to believe that we elect all the right people and everything gets fixed and stays fine forever, but that's not the way democracy works. It's always a fight for what's right and it's always a struggle for progress. It'll keep going that way, day after day, until the final day of the republic. What we lose, we can gain back -- and what we gain, we can lose.
I always say, after you win, don't go anywhere. You aren't done by a long shot. This issue isn't going away and neither should you.
Get updates via Twitter