Abortion rights advocates celebrate a major victory and look to the future
Yesterday's Senate vote to table the Nelson/Hatch amendment, the Senate version of the infamous anti-choice Stupak/Pitts amendment, was a major victory for pro-choice healthcare reform supporters. By voting to table the amendment, 54 pro-choice senators (including 50 Democrats, 2 Republicans, and 2 Independents) rejected the drastic expansion of abortion funding restrictions, which would ultimately result in a de facto ban of even private insurance coverage for abortion.
While watching coverage of the debate and vote on CSPAN yesterday afternoon, I was disheartened to watch one old white man after another come up to the mic and talk about what women can and cannot do with their bodies. It was an extremely telling demonstration of the distribution of power in this country. These men, however, are dinosaurs, especially when contrasted with their progressive female colleagues (the anti-choice team did have Kay Bailey Hutchinson on their side, playing dumb in a farcical exchange with Orrin Hatch, but that's to be expected). Hearing the floor speeches of the pro-choice Senators was rewarding for those of us who have been working so hard to reach out to our representatives in Congress on this issue. Barbara Boxer (our very own Jewess with Attitude), Barbara Mikulski, Al Franken, and others remind us that it is possible to both be a lawmaker and stand up for your principles.
Senator Boxer made a special point yesterday of pointing out that the pro-life (or anti-choice) side of the debate does not have a monopoly on religious support. At the Stop Stupak lobby day last Wednesday, progressive religious forces were out in full force, including the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) , Catholics for Choice, the Religious Coaltion for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), and the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). The Catholic Bishops were the driving power behind the initial Stupak/Pitts amendment and have dominated the discussion of abortion rights and religion in this country, but the religious left is out there, too, Groups like RCRC and NCJW are fighting for their own religious freedom and the right to not have one religion's values codified into law and foisted upon an entire population. The loud support of Jewish organizations for a womans right to choose makes me proud to call myself a member of the tribe.
While yesterday's results were definitely a cause for celebration and a recognition of the thousands of abortion rights activists working tirelessly throughout the United States, we still have many more hurdles to jump. Without Senator Nelson's support, the healthcare reform bill's vital public option component is more likely to be bargained away to appease moderate Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, whom Majority Leader Harry Reid may need to get the 60 votes necessary to pass the bill.
There is also the risk that healthcare reform opponents will attempt to fillibuster the bill. Once it is passed by the Senate, it will go into conference to be combined with the House version to produce a final bill. While the death of the Nelson/Hatch amendment lowers the chances of Stupak/Pitts surviving conference, there is still a risk of an abortion restriction emerging, so abortion rights supporters need to remain vigilant and continue contacting their Congress members, writing letters to the editor, and rallying public support for reproductive choice AND a public option.
Emily Kadar is a National Campus Organizer at the Feminist Majority Foundation.