Bishop Bart Stupak had run himself into a corner on the health care bill. He wanted his abortion language to be adopted but ran out of options to do so, and also faced major pressure from choice groups and a primary challenger at home. His vote was needed but he had pressure on both sides. So the agreement reached represents a way for him to step away from the ledge. And while it looks that Stupak got basically nothing substantively in return for his vote, symbolically he did succeed in delivering a blow to the pro-choice movement.

Igor Volsky explains that the changes in the executive order don’t seem to do anything but restate the law as applied in the Senate bill:

To some degree, however, Stupak is walking back from some of his past arguments. He had previously claimed that if a woman uses federal subsidies to pay for a basic benefit, she would have more private money available to fund her abortion. Or, alternatively, “premiums paid to that plan in the form of taxpayer-funded subsidies help support that abortion coverage even if individual abortion procedures are paid for out of a separate pool of privately-paid premium dollars.” Now, he is walking back from his “money is fungible” argument.

The EO extends the Hyde amendment to community health centers, but CHCs have never performed abortions in their 45-year history, and the same segregation of funds could be used to apply to them if the HHS Secretary chose.

So it’s at one level baffling why Stupak held out this long for an executive order like this, and on that level I agree with Connie Saltonstall:

However, it appears that there is nothing new in the executive order that wasn’t already in the Senate bill. This means Stupak’s obstructive maneuvering and threats could have been avoided and saved the Democratic party and process much time and effort. Stupak has promised to continue this fight. In the August 3rd primary, Democrats will have the choice of voting against this kind of representation. They will have a choice to vote for Connie Saltonstall who supports universal health care and allowing women the opportunity to make responsible life decisions for themselves and their families.

According to Stupak he became convinced that he could not get his language through the Senate, and would have to go the route of an executive order. And at that point, he lost some leverage. However, there is value – from the anti-choice perspective – and harm – from the pro-choice perspective – in getting this executive order governing restrictions on abortion funding. President Obama made a vow to Planned Parenthood to seek the elimination of the Hyde amendment, while running for office. Now, he’ll be signing something that, while it doesn’t codify Hyde, extends it and “provides additional safeguards”.

In addition, the Senate bill itself is a blow to abortion rights and abortion access, with its conspicuous “two checks” policy for segregation of funds, state opt-out of abortion coverage on the exchanges, and other restrictions. So pro-choice advocates don’t have a lot to be thrilled about with the legislation.

I strongly support what Katha Pollitt has to say here:

The way I see it, the Democratic Party and the Obama administration owe supporters of women’s rights a huge payback for cooperating on its signature issue.

Pollitt has some ideas, including full funding for Title X (reproductive services for low-income women), the Paycheck Fairness Act (which would not just give women the right to sue for wage equality, like in the Lily Ledbetter Act, but statutorily mandates it), action on maternal mortality (where America ranks sadly low on the chart), and others. At the top of the list is supporting pro-choice women in positions of authority:

Speaking of violence against women, Dems, would you look in the effing mirror? New York’s Hiram Monserrate and David Paterson? Scott Lee Cohen in Illinois? That these men and others like them could get as far as they did says the culture of the party is tone-deaf when it comes to abuse and its warning signs. The only way to detoxify politics of tolerance for violence is to have lots more women in office. If India can pass a law requiring Parliament to be one-third women, surely the Democratic Party can figure out how to achieve equal numbers of women here. Pro-choice women. Feminist women.

Start by backing the grassroots campaign of former teacher and county commissioner Connie Saltonstall, who has announced her intention to challenge Bart Stupak in the August primary. “He has a right to his personal, religious views,” says Saltonstall, “but to deprive his constituents of needed healthcare reform because of those views is reprehensible.” Now there’s a woman with gumption and a gift for stating things clearly.


UPDATE: Duly noted – the statement of NOW’s Terry O’Neill.

The National Organization for Women is incensed that President Barack Obama agreed today to issue an executive order designed to appease a handful of anti-choice Democrats who have held up health care reform in an effort to restrict women’s access to abortion. Through this order, the president has announced he will lend the weight of his office and the entire executive branch to the anti-abortion measures included in the Senate bill, which the House is now prepared to pass.

President Obama campaigned as a pro-choice president, but his actions today suggest that his commitment to reproductive health care is shaky at best. Contrary to language in the draft of the executive order and repeated assertions in the news, the Hyde Amendment is not settled law — it is an illegitimate tack-on to an annual must-pass appropriations bill. NOW has a longstanding objection to Hyde and, in fact, was looking forward to working with this president and Congress to bring an end to these restrictions. We see now that we have our work cut out for us far beyond what we ever anticipated. The message we have received today is that it is acceptable to negotiate health care on the backs of women, and we couldn’t disagree more.

David Dayen

David Dayen