By Adele Stan, AlterNet
Posted on November 6, 2009, Printed on November 7, 2009
Just when it seemed the stars were aligning for an historic vote tomorrow on health-care reform legislation in the House of Representatives, anti-choice Democrats are balking, saying that the plan would permit the indirect flow of federal dollars to fund abortion.
Led by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., a member of the Capitol Hill religious cult known as The Family, and spurred on by the Catholic bishops, anti-abortion Dems are contesting the fact that some small number of private insurance plans offered via the bill’s insurance exchange scheme may offer coverage for abortion — even therapeutic abortion. Where the federal dollars come in is via the subsidies for which lower-income people would be eligible for buying insurance through the exchange.
Politico‘s Patrick O’Connor reports on the church’s influence at the negotiating table:
Negotiators are working closely with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to finalize language the church can accept. Vulnerable anti-abortion Democrats don’t want to support any bill that the bishops haven’t signed off on.
Last time I looked, abortion was a legal medical procedure in the United States. The changes the church wants would virtually forbid abortion coverage, even for women carrying fetuses without a chance of surviving outside the womb. The church seeks to codify its contempt for women into U.S. law, dooming a woman already facing a tragic pregnancy to compromise her life and health — mental and physical — apparently for the sin of having had sex.
As the legislation stands, no federal dollars would directly cover an abortion, and the public plan will offer no abortion coverage. But that’s not enough for the men of the cloth.
The question remains, of course, as to whether this is an issue truly of moral conscience, or just a trick for stalling health-care reform. At Michele Bachmann’s disinform-athon yesterday on the Capitol steps, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins alleged, untruthfully, that the bill announced last week by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi covers abortion, as did several members of Congress. The Family Research Council is a Republican-allied group.
Also creating problems for Pelosi is conservative consternation over the ability for undocumented immigrants to buy private health insurance — using their own money — through the exchange. Already locked out of Medicaid, the government plan for the poor, undocumented workers have few options for getting any kind of health care — and few would be able to afford even the plans offered on the exchange.
Nonetheless, conservaDems apparently feel compelled to maintain a punitive stance toward the people who pick our produce and clean our toilets, in order to assuage the resentment of their constituents. Truth is, it’s really bad economics to completely lock the undocumented out of health-insurance reforms, since they’ll likely wind up in emergency rooms in the expensive, late stages of illness.
Hospital emergency rooms are forbidden to people away for ability to pay — a circumstance that many Republicans would like to change. Their message: if the severe poverty your nation suffers (partly because the U.S. sucks up all the world’s resources) drove you to cross the border at extreme personal risk so you could feed your family, you deserve to die a painful, untreated death. Nice. But until Republicans prevail with their death-camps-for-aliens plan, emergency rooms remain on the hook for the care of very sick undocumented immigrants, whose care we all ultimately pay for in the form of higher health care costs for all.
Meanwhile, mainstream media are speculating that conservative Democrats are getting wobbly on health-care reform because of yesterday’s ugly unemployment numbers (10 percent nationally) and the party’s gubernatorial losses in Virginia and New Jersey.
Neither of these rationales for stepping back from a yes vote makes a whit of sense. Health-care reform makes good economic sense, and it will serve as an economic stimulus as new jobs are created as the building of new systemic health-care infrastructures get under way. Our current health-care system, if you can even call it that, is a job-killer, not a job creator.
As for the east-coast governors’ races, both turned on local concerns — not health-care reform.
Now, can we all stop being stupid?
Lost in all this wrangling is the major coup scored by Pelosi yesterday when AARP, which claims to represent some 40 million Americans over the age of 50, endorsed the House bill, backing the bill’s cost-cutting of Medicare through a crack-down on fraud and abuse.
The vote remains scheduled for tomorrow, but many expect it to be delayed until at least Sunday, perhaps Monday. Tomorrow, President Barack Obama will visit reluctant lawmakers on Capitol Hill, hoping to twist some Democratic arms.
Meanwhile, Republicans continue their disinformation campaign, seeking to convince fearful Americans that the health-care bill will end all private plans, force them to pay for frivolous abortions, cut benefits from Medicare, sink the economy and create a Marxist-fascist-socialist dictatorship.
Adele M. Stan is AlterNet’s Washington editor.