Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Celebrating a Major Victory and Looking Toward 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.

Watching coverage of the debate and vote on C-SPAN 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, Barbara Mikulski, Al Franken, and others remind us that it is possible to both be a lawmaker and stand up for your principles.

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. Senator Snowe favors a "trigger mechanism" , meaning that a government-run insurance plan would only be created should private insurers fail to provide affordable coverage, and Senator Collins has expressed her firm disagreement with the public option in the past. 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.

The death of the Nelson/Hatch amendment lowers the chances of Stupak/Pitts surviving conference, but 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.

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