Women’s rights advocates say parts of health reform bill a step backwards


Abortion politics figured heavily into the health care reform debate, and advocates say the health care bill ultimately set women’s rights back a few steps. Shannon Drury, president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Organization of Women, tells the Minnesota Independent that some of the compromises made in the health care bill are unacceptable and that leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were too eager to reach that compromise. 

“Without question I’m happy that health care reform was a priority of this administration from day one, and I’m happy that much needed changes to the system have gone through,” said Drury. “But the process revealed how seriously Congress and the Obama administration take the reproductive rights of American women – not very seriously at all. I think that’s a serious setback in moving forward on the entire feminist agenda.”

Drury said some aspects of the bill are good for women and reproductive health, such as increased access to health insurance and provisions in Medicaid for reproductive health services. But major parts of the reform package and the debate surrounding it are detrimental to women’s rights.

“Personally, I think it reveals the failure of the word ‘choice’ to describe the rights we are demanding under law,” she said. “You see that in the ease with which a ‘pro-choice’ Speaker of the House negotiated a compromise in which women seeking abortion coverage will have to write two checks to their insurance provider.”

She continued, “On paper it doesn’t sound so bad, does it? A woman can ‘choose’ to take that extra step to have that coverage. But I ask you, in all seriousness, what woman plans ahead for her abortion? What man plans ahead for his prostate cancer? In the latter case, no moral judgment is cast – a man would never ‘choose’ such a thing. No woman chooses an unplanned pregnancy.”

The health care reform bill that was signed into law this week not only upholds the Hyde Amendment, a total ban on Medicaid money being used for abortion, but also signed into law the Stupak amendment, which prohibits any health plan that receives even one dollar of federal money from paying for abortion.

To add to those restrictions, President Obama signed an executive order affirming them.

Drury says her group is looking to draw attention to these issues.

“My mission for Minnesota NOW is to start a conversation about bringing the issue back to a matter of rights,” she said. “We cannot let abortion rights slide into a debate over personal ‘choice,’ for it’s simply not true. Choice implies access, availability, opportunity – things that Nancy Pelosi has, but most women in America do not.”

Instead of restricting abortion, Congress should have passed legislation that “reaffirms the legality of abortion, one that places it within the spectrum of women’s health services, from pap smears to childbirth, to mammograms and menopause,” she said.

It’s shameful for Congress to bow to religious pressure on this issue, she added. “I’d at least like to have the confidence that public policy decisions are being made without the influence of religious lobbies. How the Conference of Catholic Bishops continues to get away with it is really beyond me. I would venture to guess that Glenn Beck or Katherine Kersten wouldn’t sit idly by while a Muslim organization shaped public debate – why does a Christian group get a pass?”

Drury also expressed some disappointment that reproductive rights advocates were a bit lukewarm in their opposition to the new abortion restrictions.

“I disagree strongly with the light tone of Cecile Richards [president of Planned Parenthood] towards the Executive Order banning federal funding for abortion,” said Drury. “She dismisses it as a political tactic, but I feel it tells poor and underprivileged women exactly where they rank in the political process-at the bottom, and they’re going to stay there.”