Will One Senator Stand Up for Women?

This year seemed so promising for women, but on a snowy Saturday, women took it on the chin. In a bargain that would make Faust blush, senators and the White House asked women to give up some of our privacy and reproductive health care decisions in order to get Senator Ben Nelson's vote.

Here's what they decided for us. States will be able to create two kinds of insurance plans for women: one with reproductive health and abortion coverage and another without. If a woman chooses a plan that covers abortion, every month she will have to write two checks: one to the abortion coverage part of the plan and another check for everything else. And states will also have the right to opt-out of offering any kind of plan that covers abortion which could leave millions of women on their own.

According to the political newspaper, Politico, Senator Ben Nelson had his epiphany this way. "As he spent the day munching on almonds, peanuts and potato chips, Nelson said he eventually had what he described as a breakthrough. He turned over a piece of paper, and drew a line down the center. "Why don't we have two policies?" Nelson asked. "One with and one without." It's just what women want: two sets of checks to write, two separate plans, two insurance bureaucracies to deal with. Who knew we'd get "Two Americas" for women's health care, too?

All across Capitol Hill, leaders were praised for standing by their principles: to keep or get rid of the public option, to vote for or against a Medicare buy-in for those 55 and older, to stand firm on deficit reduction or embrace certain $500 billion accounting gimmicks and of course the government's right to decide what women can and cannot do with their bodies. But not one leader -- male or female -- drew their own line in the sand for women's health care. Not one said that if anyone tries to take away, diminish, and change the existing law on the books then they would filibuster the bill. The truth is this entire abortion fight is unnecessary. A "firewall" already exists to make sure that federal dollars are not used to pay for abortions. That law is called The Hyde Amendment and it's been established law since 1976.

One of the great things about a snowstorm in a city is how still and quiet everything becomes and how sounds come through loud and clear: a cracking branch, a spinning tire, a child laughing. And what Washington said to women on Saturday was, "You're a second class citizen."

I understand the arguments they're making. It's a compromise for the greater good... It will give us something to work with and we can get rid of all this bad language next year... It's historic... These compromises are worth it to bring health insurance to 31 million Americans. No they're not. The Hyde Amendment makes this language unnecessary and we don't have to compromise a thing. What were all those marches for "Shhh, this is history."

I'm one of those Americans who is without health insurance and I don't care if the bill paves the way to Sugar Mountain; this is yet another terrible blow to women.

Look at this decision in context with what has happened in the last few weeks. A government advisory panel stated that women don't need mammograms until we turn fifty and then only one every couple of years. Young women are being advised to get their first pap smear when they turn 21, and then every other year -- never mind that thousands of young women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. For the last month, we've watched women plastered on TV and labeled as "mistress," "porn star," "gold digger" for having slept with Tiger Woods. Newsweek belittled women around the world when they put former Governor Sarah Palin in a pair of short-shorts on their cover. And Elizabeth Warren just explained to us how every year, more than one million women file for bankruptcy, and many do so because they can't collect child support because their former partners are filing for bankruptcy themselves and -- get this -- credit card companies have more legal power to collect that man's money than the mother of his children.

It's been one hit after another and if we don't speak up now for our rights, then we'd better get ready to hold our peace. I wish that Senators Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray could have drawn their own line down the middle of a piece of paper. Why couldn't they have been in charge of the negotiations? Why don't men have to write two checks, one to pay for the Viagra and another for everything else?

This bill is troubling on so many different levels and I'm pretty sure that Washington will be trying to fix it long after I'm cremated. When the House and the Senate combine these two very different bills, it will be similar to that moment when my niece, Reilly, smashes the blue Play-Doh with the red and mixes it all together. Many things will be fixed in conference, additional billion dollar back-room deals will be made, but the language in both bills that diminishes women's reproductive health care is like that one piece of Play-Doh that won't blend.

There are four days left to change this and save our rights and dignity. All it takes is one leader in Washington to stop this and save millions of women from an undo burden and shame -- shame which may also come to women who feel very differently than I do about a woman's right to choose because their only affordable choice might be a plan that offers abortion coverage and every month they'll have to write two checks, too. Even though we may disagree about this issue, they deserve they same respect and the possibility of them being humiliated this way upsets me just as much.

So who will be our Lieberman? Who will be our Nelson? Who will have the courage to demand one health care plan for women and that this language be stripped from the bill? There has to be someone who will stand for us because when one woman is demeaned in the name of the greater good, that's not progress, that's not historic, that's a sign of a country in deep crisis.