As the health-care debate moves to the Senate, many
pundits are warning the Democratic Party that the fight to keep an anti-choice
amendment out of the Senate bill represents a split in the party’s big tent.
The rationale, as the pundits say, is that the Democratic
congressional leadership has to choose between the economically liberal wing of
its party and the socially progressive one. (The latter, of course, is code for
the pro-choice voters who have consistently helped elect Democrats at all
levels of government.)
Let me be clear: I strongly disagree with this premise,
precisely because my personal experience has taught me that you do not have to
trade off your economic ideals to make social progress.
I am the daughter of a union member from Anaconda, Montana. My dad
worked in the copper smelter that sustained our community for decades. When it came time for me to go to college, I signed my
union card, picked up a shovel, and suited up as part of the first wave of
women to work in what had been a male bastion. The money I earned at the smelter made it possible for me
to complete college and return to my hometown as a teacher for special-needs
Then disaster struck. Without any prior notice, the
company operating the smelter told its employees that the plant was closing.
The livelihoods of my neighbors and many relatives literally went up in smoke.
Our population shrank, and the bustling town of my childhood became a thing of
Determined to do something about that, and acting on my
lineage of outspoken Irish Catholics, I ran for the legislature. My main issue
was making sure corporations couldn’t blindside a community with news of a
plant closure -- they had to give ample notice.
I got to the legislature and fought for this kind of
economic justice, while at the same time working to end insurance companies’
practice of discriminating against women in insurance coverage. I believed then, as I do now, that social justice and
economic justice are intertwined - you simply cannot have one without the
After six years in the legislature, I went on to serve
three terms as the statewide elected superintendent of public instruction. I
ran as a pro-choice candidate for that office and spoke at pro-choice rallies
when opponents of a woman’s right to choose started launching more attacks in
When I ran for Congress in 2000, I campaigned as a
candidate for working families and for women’s freedom and privacy. For me, the
two values complemented each other. They weren’t in competition.
So, I tell my fellow progressives to reject the pundits’
premise that, in order to achieve great progress, we have to push aside allies
who, in this case, helped build and still support the Democratic Party’s big
In fact, one of the most vocal proponents of the “divide
and conquer” strategy is Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, the principal author of the
notorious anti-choice amendment in the House bill. He injected anti-abortion
politics into the debate, even though the original House bill (much to our
disappointment) included a ban on federal funding for abortion and continued
other federal and state status-quo restrictions on abortion.
Stupak’s amendment goes far beyond the status quo. It also
makes it virtually impossible for private insurance companies to cover abortion
care in the new system (although 85 percent of these plans currently provide
such coverage). Without the full range of reproductive-health options in
the new health-care exchange, women will once again be at an economic
disadvantage in the workplace. That's
not a prescription either wing of our party should be able to take.
Rep. Stupak and his allies are taking issue with NARAL
Pro-Choice America’s efforts to hold senators accountable and stop divisive
anti-choice language like that found in his amendment from contaminating the
Senate bill. Rep. Stupak even told the Detroit News, “We are in
contact with senators to make sure our language holds. The other side is
playing with fire.”
Rep. Stupak, I worked in the copper smelter. I can stand