Political InQueery: Stupak Amendment on Steroids

While the news media focuses on the debate between the two primary political parties on tax cuts and who should receive them, both in the lame duck Congress session and in the next session, organizations like NARAL are preparing for a different fight over tax dollars and tax penalties — those related to reproductive rights. If pro-choice people are congratulating themselves on the second landslide vote in Colorado against outlawing abortion, they may want to shift into preparing for this winter’s fight over abortion. And much of this upcoming debate may have been brought about by the Democrat’s biggest win last session: the health care reform law.

The expected next Speaker of the House, John Boehner, has accepted the endorsement of the Republican National Coalition for Life, which demands that endorsed members “indicate they are faithfully pro-life, and do not justify abortion for innocent babies who are conceived through rape or incest.” He is one of at least 180 Representatives who have said they will co-sponsor the supposed “Stupak on Steroids” bill, which would ban coverage of abortion in the new health care system and impose a tax on Americans with private insurance plans if those plans cover abortion—and 87 percent of plans currently do.

The health care reform law passed by Congress this year also allowed for more latitude on the part of state governments in setting up oversight processes to protect consumers and in structuring state-level insurance exchanges. Aiding their party colleagues in the House, some Republican governors have expressed that they will provide as much resistance to the new health care system as possible. In addition to holding up implementation of the insurance exchanges, and in light of the 2010 election results, more states may join the 20 who have joined together to fight the Federal Government’s requirements for people to carry coverage. (This is a separate issue than the threat from Texas’ Rick Perry to pull out of Medicaid, which also would have consequences for women and working class people’s health access and care.)

It’s unlikely that a full repeal of health care reform will happen, at least on President Obama’s watch, which is why, in part, Senator Mitch McConnell was standing in front of the Heritage Foundation last week declaring that voters needed to install a GOP president in 2012. As for the reform, McConnell said:

We may not be able to bring about straight repeal in the next two years, and we may not win every vote against targeted provisions, even though we should have bipartisan support for some. But we can compel administration officials to attempt to defend this indefensible health spending bill and other costly, government-driven measures, like the stimulus and financial reform

By attempting a piecemeal deconstruction of the just-passed law, Republicans can use their time-tested approach to dismantling reproductive rights—banning late term abortions, restricting access, setting a gag rule, requiring waiting periods or parental notification, and so on—to keep the terms of the debate in the media and attempt to continually energize their base, so that by the time 2012 rolls around, the electorate will be able to equate health reform with the classic critique of “liberal tax and spend.”  And yet again the battle for the minds of voters will be waged over the bodies of women and the choices they wished they could have in peace. It remains to be seen if Democrats will play along and agree to rescind sections and leave it up to Obama to use his veto power for the first time.