Abortion Compromise Was Neccesary

Posted on 08. Nov, 2009 by in Uncategorized

On a day of the biggest democratic victory in decades, a dissonant note sounded through liberal chambers that should have been ringing with a ballad of unfettered triumph: A medical reform bill that pushes for nearly universal coverage for Americans. A Democratic dream for more then 70 years. FDR tried it, Johnson tried it, Clinton tried it. But every Democratic through generations that attempted to move that boulder up the cliff was rewarded by watching it come crashing right back down. And perhaps Obama will end up being the greatest Sysphus yet – the Senate battle promises to be a much tougher battle than the already nail biter in the house.

Still Saturday was a historic win. Democrats high-fived and cheered as the bill passed the House, coming the closest in history to a government assurance that sick people will be able to get medical attention. But there was a sour note, an underlying tension to an ideological and political victory.

The abortion amendment, a compromise that allowed moderate democrats to give narrow healthcare win, adds new language barring federal funding for abortions. Healthcare plans that are obtained with any federal funding cannot include coverage of abortions, and women who want such coverage will need to purchase separate abortion riders.

But the compromise represents what is needed most in American national politics: a detente on abortion. Liberals and abortion rights activists won’t see the amendment as a ceasefire on this most politically divisive of issues, they will say that it is retreat. Abortion activists will says that it means that all the yards gained on getting insurance for the uninsured will be yards lost for women’s ability to make a reproductive decision.

But this framing is wrong, and is the same framing that has hamstrung most political progress since Roe V Wade in 1973. Of all political positions, opposition for abortion and support for abortion rights are the positions that come from the deepest part of the gut. Those who believe that abortion is the killing of unborn children, and those who believe that the choice to end a pregnancy is an inherent act of self-determination, are diametrically opposed in the worst possible way: the two sides can never view each other with anything more than disdain. The two positions are inherently irreconcilable.

Roe V Wade was a total defeat for one of those two positions. For all the justice of having women able to make decisions about their own futures, imposing of a federal judicial edict on an ethical dispute has had a heavy cost. A wounded Christian right mobilized, and using this issue as its banner, laid siege on a federal government, electing politicians like Bush and Delay, and polarizing the political climate to a point that congress has not been able to take on many of the most important issues over the past 30 years.

I personally would not like to see abortion made a states issues, as the Christian right has long asked for. I am not at all certain that abortion rights would win. But seeing how the well has been poisoned over the abortion issue, makes me believe that it makes sense to take it off the table for the healthcare fight.

Will the amendment hurt abortion hurt access? Perhaps. But it will be much easier for states, non-profit groups, and doctors to try to cover some of the cost of abortions, the majority of which are $500 or less, than for those same parties to provide for the tens of millions of people who don’t have any access to any health care at all.

Taking the issue off the table says that how abortions are paid for is a local fight. It places the healthcare dispute in a realm where, at least theoretically, the terms are open to a reasoned, national discussion.

The real tough work for health reform will happen after the bill is passed. Unlike abortion, if healthcare is to be truly universal, lawmakers will need they buy-in and support from bureaucracies and organizations big and small on every level of society. Preventing abortion from being part of this issue is the first step to building this massive shift towards a consensus.

Comments are closed.