The Senate faces a shining opportunity next week to break from Congress' reflexive votes to discriminate against women, and to reclaim leadership for covering abortion care for all women regardless of their income, source of insurance, or where they live.
The issue is H.R. 2, passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the House just before the March recess. It offers a compromise on the long unpopular but seemingly intractable Medicare formula for paying doctors. Delay in the Senate threatens a 20% pay cut for the MDs! (Sound familiar?) And the bill would extend funding for children's health insurance and community health centers.
But H.R. 2 also includes the Hyde amendment, banning federal funds for abortion. Including at community health centers. This funding ban has been included in appropriations bills for decades. "It's pretty much chiseled in stone," according to the NY Times' Gail Collins. Does putting Congress on the record for extending this discrimination for another 2 years make really make things any worse?
Yes. It's increasingly clear that sticking with the status quo is an open door to retreat. In March, the abortion funding restriction showed up in a Senate bill intended to protect the victims of sex-trade trafficking. This past week, Indiana recovered from national revulsion against an anti-LGBT law by handing down a 20-year jail sentence to Purvi Patel, claiming that her miscarriage constituted "feticide." We are way beyond irony here.
The primary victims of the Hyde restrictions are low-income women and their families, and people of color, who are 5 times more likely to experience unintended pregnancies and childbirths, and are increasingly caught in the vise of state and federal laws constraining access to safe, legal abortions, as well as reduced social and financial support for families. Leaders and advocates for vulnerable communities will be stronger for unifying our shared interests in children's health insurance, community health centers, fair Medicare reimbursement policies, and abortion rights and reproductive justice.
It is long past time for our leaders to make the positive case for equitable coverage, as H.R. 2 heads to the Senate for a vote. As Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has said, this is "one battle that we can win... I see it as standing up for principle. And you know principle doesn't know minority and majority; principle is deeply held."