It is no wonder our elected officials find it hard to embrace standing up against the Stupak-Pitts Amendment in the health care reform bill when the argument is presented as an either or scenario, with dire consequences on either side. As in, "either" you vote to effectively ban abortion, "or" you block health care reform and potentially harm millions of Americans while ruining the political capital of the Democratic Party. If we don't push back against the meme that this is an "either-or" situation we force pro-choice legislators to make a Hobson's choice. The problem is, the pro-choice movement's political capital is an unknown quantity. We know that the Catholic Bishops can go to the brink, threaten, and get their way. But I don't know that in a country where the very word abortion is almost impossible to say, it's possible to ask pro-choice leaders to do the same and expect them to win.
That's why we must stress that choosing between health care reform and the right to choose is, in the words of Massachusetts Senate Candidate Martha Coakley, a "false choice." The media is not helping us think another way. Take this morning's story in the New York Times, in which Katherine Seelye writes,
The abortion issue has put members of Congress who support abortion rights in a quandary over the health care legislation...Do they stick to their longstanding principles and fiercely resist the legislative effort to limit access to insurance for abortions?...Or should they compromise on the issue and vote for legislation that in other ways could greatly improve health care for women?"
And "more than 40 members had attached their names to a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, warning that they would not vote for a final bill if it "restricts women's right to choose any further than current law." However, the names of these 40 members haven't been released and apparently, their commitments are only "verbal."
We know the Bishops could get away with more than anonymous, verbal commitments.
Martha Coakley, the Attorney General of Massachusetts who is running in the special election to fill Ted Kennedy's seat has been stressing, "It's a false choice." We need to echo her. Coakley, "says "I can't believe that we are now reduced to saying the only way we can get good health care is by taking steps backward on women's rights. It's a false choice.''
Raise your hand if you think health care reform has nothing to do with re-legislating Roe vs. Wade. I do not. And yet, here we are.
Coakley's stance is brave. Ellen Goodman noted, Mike Capuano, Coakley's closest challenger, has "flip-flopped" on the issue and now says he would vote against Stupak-Pitts in the Senate. Too late. Alan Khazei and Steven Pagliuca, the other two Dems running, say they support passing health care even with Stupak Pitts and would vote for the bill if it is still included in Senate healthcare.
It is important for progressive women all over the country to recognize Coakley. Starting now, pro-choice Americans must figure out a way to increase our bargaining power so that soon, we can go head to head with the likes of the Bishops. But for this urgent debate we can try to shift the the discussion so our leaders do not have to go to the brink, and risk failing.