The House’s health care bill has experienced inspirational moments of progression and frustrating moments of regression during these past months of debate. Last week, the bill took its most spectacular step forward and most horrific step back, all in one day. The landmark legislation passed by a 220-215 vote in the House but only after debate regressed to the unrelated issue of abortion, an issue resolved almost four decades ago in Roe v. Wade. To please Republicans and garner enough votes for passage, Rep. Bart Stupak stapled an amendment onto the bill prohibiting the public option to cover abortions and banning subsidies for private plans that cover abortions. Normally, I refuse to let last-minute “add-ons” temper my unbridled joy at seeing landmark legislation pass. However, because of the discriminately racist and classist nature of the amendment, I could not help but take pause.
Stupak’s amendment creates an unfair and unequal burden on minority groups and the poor, the primary benefactors of the proposed public option, by inhibiting them from receiving abortions. Although today, blacks account for only 12 percent of the population, they account for 35.5 percent of America’s abortions; women with family incomes less than $15,000 account for a whopping 28.7 percent. Under Stupak’s amendment, these women, who are least able to afford abortions — the poor — and who most often require them — minorities — will pay the most for them. Non-hospital abortions average $430 at 10 weeks’ gestation or $1,260 at 20 weeks’ gestation; Stupak’s amendment makes these pricey operations available only to the wealthy that can afford private, unsubsidized health care insurance that covers such procedures. Abortion-prone groups are effectively isolated through targeted market manipulation and denied the right to choice.
Republicans praise principles of liberty, freedom of choice and limited government, then use government to place the most unconstitutional restrictions on these ideals. It is unthinkable to approach this debate from the Left by arguing that abortion does not rob some being of some form of life because fetuses do in fact have hearts, brains and nervous systems by the end of the first trimester. However, Republicans undermine the solemnity with which pro-choice Democrats approach the question of abortion; Democrats do not view abortion as just “another form of birth control.” A woman and her doctor reach this conclusion only after heavily weighing unequivocally stark options and regretfully determining that an abortion is in the best interests of both the mother and prospective baby.
The abortion debate is complex and deserves a place where it can earn adequate and exclusive attention. A last minute, stapled-on page to a healthcare bill is clearly not that place. Although the House bill is far from ideal because of its discriminatory and unrelated abortion component, the need for a public option is so overbearing that the Senate and Obama must approve it immediately. Only after signing the bill into law, can Obama take pleasure in setting the “signing pen” down on his desk, picking up the staple remover next to it and working with Congress to remove the abortion amendment.