Leaders of Planned Parenthood, members of Congress and others have made the rounds on cable news and even the floor of the House, decrying the Amendment with such claims as that of Rep. Nita Lowey, who asserted that the language of the Stupak Amendment "puts new restrictions on women's access to abortion coverage in the private health insurance market even when they would pay premiums with their own money." This claim has been rejected as false by Politifact.com.
In the midst of this hysteria, National Public Radio (NPR) has done a fair job of breaking down the language of the Stupak Amendment. The quote from Rep. Stupak in the story underscores an essential point about the Stupak Amendment, that it's merely an application of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion and has been attached to appropriations bills since 1976. One question the NPR summary doesn't answer is whether or not the Hyde Amendment also forbids funding entire benefits packages that include abortion. The answer is yes.
In this case, the provisions of the Stupak Amendment are very much in continuity with federal law as it stands now and has stood for decades. It isn't some case of overreaching on the part of pro-lifers, as its opponents are now depicting it.
One voice that has joined the fray of speaking against the Stupak Amendment in the House bill is President Obama himself. The President, as is his style, took a cooler approach, as quoted here from the Washington Post:
"I laid out a very simple principle, which is this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill," Obama said. "And we're not looking to change what is the principle that has been in place for a very long time, which is federal dollars are not used to subsidize abortions. And I want to make sure that the provision that emerges meets that test -- that we are not in some way sneaking in funding for abortions, but, on the other hand, that we're not restricting women's insurance choices, because one of the pledges I made in that same speech was to say that if you're happy and satisfied with the insurance that you have, that it's not going to change." He added: "There are strong feelings on both sides, and what that tells me is that there needs to be some more work before we get to the point where we're not changing the status quo."ABC News also quotes the President as saying he's confident the final legislation will ensure that "neither side feels that it's being betrayed."
It's striking that this language is President Obama's argument against the Stupak Amendment. He reiterates here what you could call his pledge from his September 9 address to Congress on health care, that federal funds would not go to abortions, a pledge that the U.S. bishops held Congress to over the course of the health care bill's passage.
A major portion of the struggle over the legislation was that the Capps Amendment, the earlier abortion amendment in the House bill, was essentially what President Obama describes above, a "way of sneaking in funding for abortions." The Stupak Amendment rectifies this.
The President also cites his pledge that "if you're happy and satisfied with the insurance that you have, that it's not going to change." As the NPR breakdown explains, the Stupak Amendment "does not apply to private insurance bought with private money." So anyone who currently has a private plan with abortion coverage is going to be able to keep her plan with abortion coverage under the House bill and Stupak.
It seems President Obama simply doesn't appreciate how well the Stupak Amendment meets the goals he's put in place for this legislation.
The President's quote about "this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill" really drives this point home. Health care reform simply isn't the appropriate forum for advancing one's agenda on abortion. The President and the opponents of the Stupak Amendment would quickly use this same argument against the current bill, but the argument falls apart once it's made clear that Stupak merely preserves the status quo. It's the opponents of the Stupak Amendment who, whether they realize it or not, are saying, "We're reforming health care -- while we're at it, let's change long-standing laws so we can finally federally fund abortion."
The President suggests that the "strong feelings" surrounding the current bill mean that it somehow alters the status quo. A more accurate reading would be that current outcry means that proponents of abortion weren't ready to support a bill that reformed health care without expansion of abortion funding.
More interesting, and more challenging, is Obama's assertion that the final bill won't leave anyone feeling "betrayed." Once again, the Stupak Amendment gives him exactly what he asks for, whether he realizes it or not. If one side of the debate wants all women to continue to have access to and coverage for abortions and the other side wants to ensure that federal funds continue to be kept from abortions and abortion coverage, the Stupak Amendment covers both of these bases.
Already Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, according to Politico, is willing to work with both sides to find a compromise on abortion. Referring to the Hyde Amendment, he asserts, "The one thing we are certain to do is to maintain what we have had in the past."
Like President Obama, Senator Reid needs to look no farther than the Stupak Amendment.