Obama’s attack on abortion rights

The Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives has passed a health care bill backed by President Barack Obama that includes a far-reaching attack on abortion rights.

The Affordable Health Care for America Act includes a measure, the Stupak-Pitts amendment, that would ban insurance companies participating in health care “exchanges” from covering abortion procedures in plans subsidized by tax credits and sold to middle- and low-income families (those earning under $88,000 for a family of four).


Exceptions would apply only in cases of rape, incest, and if the woman’s life is in peril.


Abortion coverage would also be banned from the bill’s so-called “public option”—a government-run plan open to those presently not insured. The reactionary Hyde Amendment of 1976 already outlaws funding for abortion from the Health and Human Services Department budget and from federal Medicaid funds.


Women forced into insurance plans offered through the public option or the private health care exchanges—on pain of fines imposed by the government—would, in the event of need, be forced to pay for the procedure out-of-pocket, or else pay premiums for a separate insurance rider covering only abortion.


When it comes to abortion rights, politicians have little compunction about interfering in the “free market.” Because the amendment targets private insurance plans, the great majority of which currently offer abortion coverage, it would narrow the coverage that insured women already have.


The provision’s ultimate aim is the de facto prohibition of abortion for low- and even middle-income women. Among the wealthy layers not affected by the measure are those who passed it—the members of the US Congress, 237 of whom are millionaires, according to a recent study by the Center for Responsive Politics.


Since the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade proclaimed the constitutional right to abortion, this right has been the object of an unrelenting attack by religious groups and the right wing. For many working class women, it is already difficult, if not impossible, to afford the procedure or to find clinics that offer it.


Democratic politicians have for many years presented themselves as defenders of abortion rights. This posture was in keeping with the party’s embrace of identity politics, including feminism, which it increasingly promoted in tandem with its abandonment of any pretense to social reforms.


Every election cycle, the various liberal and feminist groups mobilize to warn that voters must cast their ballots for Democrats in order to defend abortion. Only Democratic politicians, the electorate is told, stand between the Republicans and the imposition of religious dogma.


Now, a House of Representatives dominated by liberal Democrats—among them the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi—with the backing of a Democrat in the White House, has passed the most sweeping attack on abortion rights since Roe vs. Wade, a measure that goes far beyond the ban on late term abortions enacted during the administration of George W. Bush.


The Affordable Health Care for America Act, including the Stupak amendment, named after its Democratic author, passed the House with the votes of 219 Democrats.

Feminist and reproductive rights organizations were quick to condemn the vote. The National Organization for Women (NOW) called the vote “the worst blow to women’s fundamental right to self-determination” put in place to “buy a few votes” for the health bill. “It is unconscionable” that the health bill could be used “to attack women’s health and privacy,” said Nancy Keenan of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

These organizations did not attempt to square the bill’s passage with their ongoing support of the Democratic Party and Obama.


This inconsistency was most glaring in a John Nichols column on the web site of the Nation. Hailing the health care bill as “the most sweeping expansion of health-care coverage” since Medicare and Medicaid, Nichols conceded that the bill is “flawed” by its inclusion of the anti-abortion amendment.

Democratic Congressmen were cowed by the intervention of religious opponents of abortion, particularly the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which issued “a series of increasingly stern letters to lawmakers” demanding that any health bill cut funding for abortion, the New York Times reports. For his part, Obama “listened intently” to similar warnings from Cardinal Seán O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, while the two were attending the funeral of Edward Kennedy in late August.


It is absurd to claim that a bill stripping millions of working- and middle-class women of the ability to obtain an abortion—one dictated by corporate interests and Catholic prelates—are blemishes on otherwise progressive legislation.


In fact, the Stupak amendment is entirely in keeping with a health bill that is not a reform at all, but a sweeping attack on health care for millions of people. The Stupak anti-abortion amendment exposes the anti-working class and anti-democratic nature of Obama’s health care overhaul.

Its aim is to contain costs while ensuring the profits of the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical giants and the hospital chains. It seeks to ration and restrict health care procedures for the working class. In this sense, depriving working class women of access to abortions is entirely consistent with the general thrust of the bill. At the same time, the bill leaves millions of people uninsured.

Obama personally intervened to ensure passage of the bill, closing Democratic congressional ranks by telling them, “No bill can ever contain everything that everybody wants, or please every constituency.”

Such statements reveal Obama’s contempt for basic democratic rights. Obama’s “constituency,” as the bill’s attack on abortion rights makes clear, is not the American people. His drive to pass the bill is rooted in a different constituency—the US financial elite, which views health care “reform” as the first pass in its long-desired assault on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

Obama won office on the campaign slogan of “change.” On every major issue, however, he has not only continued, but in fact deepened the right-wing policies of his predecessor—the expansion of war, bank bailouts, the attack on democratic rights, and the unrelenting assault on the working class. The abortion measure is only the latest demonstration of the real class character of the administration, as well as the utterly decayed state of American liberalism.

Access to abortion is a democratic right. It is a well-established and safe medical procedure. The Socialist Equality Party supports unequivocally this right, which can be defended only as part of a socialist system of free health care that makes available to all the great scientific breakthroughs in medicine.


Tom Eley