Friday, November 13, 2009

When Men Legislate on Women's Rights

When it comes to health care, it seems that abortion coverage is the only thing that matters anymore. Which, on some levels, could absolutely be argued. After all, it was the deciding factor in the Affordable Health Care for America Act in the House, and it will, arguably, determine the passing of the health care bill in the Senate.

A big word being tossed around recently in regards to abortion coverage is "status quo" and ensuring that we don't fail to maintain that. Here's a brief history lesson on the three biggest amendments in regards to abortion coverage under health insurance: the Hyde Amendment, the Capps Amendment, and the Stupak-Pitts amendment. One sets the status quo on abortion coverage (Hyde), one maintains that status quo (Capps), and another blows it out of the water (Stupak-Pitts.) Watch/Read what happens when men legislate on women's rights.....

The Hyde Amendment (1976) bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortions and was enacted is the first major piece of legislation passed by abortion opponents following the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. The Hyde amendment unfairly targets poor women as it abortion coverage through Medicaid. The original Hyde amendment made no exception for the cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother (the language was changed in 1981 to provide for rape and incest, but not until 1993 to provide for circumstances of life endangerment.) With the inclusion of the Stupak-Pitts amendment in the Affordable Health Care for America Act, women in the United States face the most restrictive legislation on abortion since Hyde.

Although supporters of Stupak claim this amendment maintains the status quo, it, in fact, goes well beyond that. Although the basic principle is the same, ensuring public funds are not used to support abortion, the broad impact is different. Under Hyde, the only population who faced abortion restrictions were poor women on Medicaid. However, under Stupak, any woman participating in the health care exchange, even if she has private coverage, would not be allowed to purchase a plan that includes abortion coverage; Stupak extends the restrictions beyond the poor and could potentially impact the vast majority of women in this country.

Henry Hyde, Bart Stupak, and Joe Pitts are all white, males and, collectively, have written the most restrictive health care policies in recent history yet know next to nothing about what it means to be a woman and/or the importance of reproductive right and health care. Rep Lois Capps, however, may know a thing or two.

Capps proposed the Capps Amendment earlier this year after the U.S. Coalition of Catholic Bishops, among others, requested there be an “abortion neutral” amendment that would maintain the status quo on funding for abortions. Although maintaining the status quo set by Hyde is not ideal for women, Capps made the best of it with her proposed amendment.

The Capps Amendment (or compromise) was the first proposed amendment to the health care bill that specifically legislated in regards to abortion. Capps maintained the status quo for abortion coverage under Hyde but did no further damage to the reproductive rights of women and created options under the Exchange; under the exchange, Capps ensured that there was at least one plan (in the Exchange) that offered abortion coverage, and one that did not; this gives consumers the option of choosing whether or not they want their provider to fund abortion coverage (with their premiums.)

Since about 90% of private coverage plans include abortion coverage, ensuring that there is at least one per region that does not cover it actually gives consumers who object to participating in these plans a greater opportunity to find suitable coverage than what they have now under the current employer-based health insurance market.

The Capps Amendment looks to satisfy both the socially conservative and socially liberal contingents of Congress; neither bloc gets exactly what they want, nor are they left empty handed. This is the major difference between Capps and Stupak; one is a compromise the other is not.

Where Capps looks to meet in the middle, making clear sacrifices for pro-choice advocates and asking for little in return, Stupak is the opposite. The idea of “You want health care? Give us the women” is not compromise. Capps asks for an inch, Stupak takes a mile.

The Capps Amendment may not be perfect, but what is clear is that when women legislate on women's issues, women are at least left with options. When men legislate on women’s rights, it seems, women lose. When men legislate on women's issues, it's the women who have to "take one for the team" and pay the "price of reform." Can you think of a time when it was the white males paying the price for reform? Me neither.

Watch the video that inspired this post.

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