Women’s Law Project Special Advisor Kate Michelman co-authored a scathing op-ed with former Catholics for Choice president Frances Kissling this week in the New York Times, criticizing House Democrats for passing the Stupak-Pitts amendment to the healthcare reform bill. As we wrote earlier this week, the Stupak-Pitts amendment cripples women’s access to abortion, a procedure which is fundamental to women’s equality.
Michelman and Kissling’s main argument is that the Democrats unquestionably sold women out by allowing the Stupak-Pitts amendment to pass with the healthcare reform bill: “To secure passage of health care legislation in the House, the party chose a course that risks the well-being of millions of women for generations to come.” They further argue that, despite pro-choice Democrats’ claims that they were reluctant to sign the bill, and will continue to fight for women’s right to choose despite its passage, the party really invited this bill by “subordinat[ing] women’s health to short term political success.” They furthermore suggest that the results of this ‘compromise’ could be devastating for women’s rights—arguably more so than the actions of “abortion’s strongest foes.”
Many women — ourselves included — warned the Democratic Party in 2004 that it was a mistake to build a Congressional majority by recruiting and electing candidates opposed to the party’s commitment to legal abortion and to public financing for the procedure. Instead, the lust for power yielded to misguided, self-serving poll analysis by operatives with no experience in the fight for these principles. They mistakenly believed that giving leadership roles to a small minority of anti-abortion Democrats would solve the party’s image problems with “values voters” and answer critics who claimed Democrats were hostile to religion.
Democrats were told to stop talking about abortion as a moral and legal right and to focus instead on comforting language about reducing the number of abortions. In this regard, President Obama was right on message when he declared in his health care speech to Congress in September that “under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions” — as if this happened to be a good and moral thing. (The tone of his statement made the point even more sharply than his words.)
Indeed, it is the job of Democrats and progressives to defend a woman’s right to choose—not to make it sound as if a woman’s choice is immoral and wrong. Furthermore, Michelman and Kissling add that the Democratic Party has also started calling anti-choicers “pro-life”—a rather dishonest signifier.
Currently the Democrats are simply happy to have a congressional majority, and thus, as Michelman and Kissling write, “they seem to think all positions are of equal value so long as the party maintains [this] majority.” If this is the case, however, Democrats seem to be forgetting that they need the votes of pro-choice women, whom they have often recognized as their base, in order to be elected—votes that they will certainly not get if the Stupak-Pitts amendment is part of the final bill. Indeed, we agree with the Michelman and Kissling’s formidable concluding discernment:
In the meantime, the victims of their folly will be the millions of women who once could count on the Democratic Party to protect them from those who would sacrifice their rights for political gains.