Abortion is increasingly hard to come for in Pennsylvania. The Stupak amendment to the health reform bill will make it even more difficult. But Brendan Skwire says Philly's delegation should be congratulated for standing up for choice.
It's not often I get a chance to offer a hearty "well done!" to Philadelphia's stable of Democrats, but last week our delegation to the House really did good. All of them -- from progressives Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah, to so-called "New Democrat" Allyson Schwartz, to our close neighbors Joe Sestak and "Blue Dog" Patrick Murphy -- voted a resounding NO on an amendment authored by Michigan's reactionary Bart Stupak that would prevent women from buying insurance to cover abortion even if they use their own money.
How extremely messed up is Stupak's amendment to the House health reform bill? Jessica Arons at the Center for American Progress Action Fund writes that it "effectively bans coverage for most abortions from all public and private health plans" that get government financing, with only narrow exceptions for the health of the mother.
And if you think that's bad, Stupak's original language would have "limited the government's ability to include abortions in benefits plans to cases of incest, life of the mother, and forcible rape." Silly me, I didn't realize that rape can be consensual.
Although it's perfectly legal, abortion is one of those issues that make politicians incredibly skittish. Democrats in particular hate to talk about it because they're afraid they're going to piss off the shrieking pro-birth brigade. (I refuse to call them pro-life, because the same crowd typically opposes things like national health care, public schools, and family planning policies, which ensure a child or his parents have a life worth living.)
But while no one likes to talk about abortion, it's an increasingly unavailable component of women's health. The Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health, analyzed abortion in Pennsylvania during 1973-2005. Our local reps are swimming against the tide: in 2005, 78 percent of Pennsylvania counties, home to 40 percent of Pennsylvania women, had no abortion provider. According to Guttmacher, in 2005 11 percent of Pennsylvania women in need of an abortions traveled at least 50 miles to obtain one, and 3 percent traveled more than 100 miles.
Guttmacher doesn't explain why women seek abortions, but Booman Tribune's Martin Longman makes a few pungent observations about Stupak's impact on miscarriages. "One thing gets lost when we focus only on the right of a woman to terminate her pregnancy," Longman writes, "is that pregnancies terminate themselves all the time. And, when they do, there is frequently a problem that the remnants of that pregnancy do not expel themselves fully or adequately."
As Longman accurately notes, an abortion-type procedure is often the way a dead fetus is removed from the uterus. Under the Stupak amendment, this could be a crime, forcing women to carry a dead fetus until it passed on its own -- a process that can take months and which can endanger the woman's health. In order to get an abortion in those circumstances, individuals and couples would have to plead their case to insurance agents.
And that's where the rubber hits the road. Longman asks, "Imagine having to make sure your doctor would certify that your wife had extreme hypertension, or some other life-threatening problem? Imagine having to prove that your pregnancy resulted from rape, or whether or not to turn your incestuous uncle in to the authorities so you could get your insurance money." Talk about putting a bureaucrat between you and your doctor! Stupak puts entire systems in your way.
So when you're tempted, as I often am, to throw up your hands and turn your back on our dysfunctional political system, think about what our delegation did. And think about how refreshingly different our gang from southeastern Pennsylvania is from the neanderthals in the northern and western areas of the state, where Democrats Jason Altmire, Kathy Dahlkemper, Tim Holden, and John Murtha voted to throw women's reproductive health in the garbage can.
As attention turns to the Senate, the pressure on Senators Arlen Specter and Bob Casey Jr. will only grow. While Arlen is a fairly reliable vote for reproductive rights, Casey is a sworn enemy of choice, earning a 0 from NARAL in 2008. No one really knows if the Senate will add a similar amendment to their bill, so it's worth your time to call Senators Specter and Casey and demand they protect women's health.
But don't forget to call our local representatives and thank them for standing up for women and families.
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