Health bill passes House, abortion remains sticking point


The bipartisan passage of the House health reform bill Nov. 7 was met with mainly positive reviews from the labor and democratic movements. Disputes over abortion rights, however, threaten total unity for passage of a final bill.

Congressional Democrats and the Obama administration claimed a huge victory as this piece of legislation, which many consider to be an essential component of the Democratic “brand,” puts the country one step closer to a fix for the broken health care system.

Now the fight for reform shifts to the Senate where the most contentious issues are shaping up to be getting 60 senators to agree on a public option, how to pay for reform and, now, abortion.

Democrats have included national health reform in their agenda since President Truman saw his national health service proposal collapse in 1947 due to concerted Republican, insurance company and medical industry pressure against it.

This year, leading doctors’ associations, senior advocacy groups, and sections of the medical and pharmaceutical drug industry have joined broad public support for health reform.

In a statement after passage of the bill, President Obama said that health reform “will provide stability and security for Americans who have insurance; quality, affordable options for those who don’t; and bring down the cost of health care for families, businesses, and our government, while strengthening the financial health of Medicare.”

President Obama praised members of Congress who voted for the bill. “I know that this was a courageous vote for many members of Congress, and I’m grateful to them and for the rest of their colleagues for taking us this far,” he said.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka applauded the outcome of the vote as well and urged continued struggle for passage of the Senate version of the bill. “It is time to say ‘yes’ to a more secure future for Americans-and that is how the majority in the House of Representatives answered,” he noted in a statement.

“It is time to say ‘yes’ to lowering health costs, breaking the stranglehold of the insurance companies and extending health care to those in our rich country who are sick and need it,” Trumka stated.

Richard Kirsch, the national campaign manager for Health Care for America Now, also praised members of Congress who supported the bill. “It takes courage to stand up to the lies and scare tactics,” he said. “It’s imperative voters understand the important role these Members of Congress have played in taking an historic step, voting yes, and siding with constituents instead of the health insurance industry.”

Health Care for America Now plans to run TV ads in key congressional districts praising members who voted for the bill.

In an e-mail to members and supporters the Service Employees International Union celebrated passage of the bill and mocked Republican antics and false claims on the House floor before and during the vote. Overall, the union e-mail praised everyday Americans who spoke up and demanded passage of the bill.

“We couldn’t have come this far without everyday Americans stepping forward, speaking out, and refusing to let the status quo remain in Washington,” the e-mail read in part.

Some supporters of health reform expressed disappointment, however, at the passage of an amendment authored by Reps. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, and several Republicans that would restrict a woman’s right to choose when to be pregnant.

Currently, federal law prohibits the use of federal tax dollars to pay for abortions. This rule, passed in 1976, is known as the Hyde amendment.

According to analysis from the National Organization for Women, the Stupak amendment would go much further. If this version of the bill survives, in addition to disallowing the proposed public insurance program from covering the costs of abortions, it would prevent women who receive federal subsidies for health insurance from using their own money to pay for abortion services.

According to the analysis, a woman who chooses a private insurance plan in the newly created exchange could also be prevented from using her own money to pay for abortion services.

NOW explained that it could not support passage of a bill with such provisions. In a statement NOW President Terry O’Neill urged the Senate to “to pass a health care bill that respects women’s constitutionally protected right to abortion” and called on “President Obama to refuse to sign any health care bill that restricts women’s access to affordable, quality reproductive health care.”

In a separate statement, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards “condemned” passage of the Stupak amendment and expressed a commitment “to passing health care reform that will guarantee affordable, quality health care coverage for all, including access to comprehensive reproductive health care.”

The Stupak amendment passed with a large bipartisan majority, but most of the Republicans who supported the amendment refused to support passage of the final bill.

 Photo: / CC BY 2.0



Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of The Collectivity of Life: Spaces of Social Mobility and the Individualism Myth, and a former editor of Political Affairs.