Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization of Women, was not happy to hear President Obama’s response when ABC News asked him about an amendment added to the House Democrats’ health care bill Saturday night that further restricts abortion services in both public and private insurance plans.
“He has passed health care for half the population and an anti-abortion bill for the rest of us,” O’Neill said.
She said she understood the president’s frustration in wanting to pass health care reform, but “it is not acceptable for him to achieve that goal by pushing women back into the back alleys to die.” And the anti-abortion amendment added to the health care reform legislation “does just that.”
The office of the one of the authors of the amendment, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., rejects that, saying that the bill “prohibits the use of federal funding for abortion under the public health insurance option and prohibits the use of federal affordability credits to purchase a health insurance policy that covers abortion.” This, Stupak argues, merely codifies existing law under what’s known as the Hyde amendment.
But O’Neill says the bill goes further than that.
“It prohibits the insurance companies from offering abortion if anyone in their plan has received any kind of subsidy,” she told ABC News. “It was very, very cleverly done. The Catholic bishops are beside themselves with glee. They rolled the pro-choice Democrats.”
The office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says that the Stupak amendment does not prohibit by law private insurance companies from offering plans that include abortion coverage to women not receiving government subsidies.
But many in the abortion-rights community say the amendment will likely have that effect because so many Americans would be receiving a subsidy, insurance companies would drop abortion coverage so as to appeal to the largest number of consumers possible.
"I laid out a very simple principle, which is this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill," Mr. 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."
That phrase – “this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill” – bothers O’Neill, she says. “Abortion is health care,” she says. “I read that quote to a huge number of people and they just gasped. Abortion is fundamental health care. Candidate Obama repeatedly said reproductive health care is a fundamental part of health care. Candidate Obama repeatedly said reproductive health care would be included in his health care package.”
Obama said that the bill cannot change the status quo regarding the ban on federally funded abortions.
“There are strong feelings on both sides" about the amendment "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….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.” The president said he was confident that the final legislation will ensure that "neither side feels that it's being betrayed."
That isn’t how O’Neill sees it, as least as of now.
“The president has handed us a bill that reverses Roe v. Wade,” she told ABC News, condemning the amendment originally drafted by Stupak and Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Penn. “Stupak-Pitts is such a sweeping denial of insurance coverage of abortion for women that it in fact in essence makes abortion unavailable to women. In Roe v Wade the court said the government may not restrict women from exercising their choice to have an abortion and Stupak-Pitts clearly stops women from doing that.”
During the Democratic primaries, the campaign of then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, suggested that Obama would not fight for abortion rights as would Clinton. O’Neill sees this current action in that light.
“There’s no question that Hillary Clinton would have fought for our rights,” she says. “There’s no question that she would have understood the devastating implications of the Stupak-Pitts amendment. She would not have countenanced the Democratic leadership” of the House insisting that the amendment was allowed to be voted upon, which O’Neill says was a decision that essentially assured its inclusion in the bill.
Did she contact Clinton?
“She works for President Obama,” O’Neill says, “so that wouldn’t be appropriate.”