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Monday, November 09, 2009

People Who Oppose Abortion Are Officially More Important Than You

A long, long time ago, I was working for a fundraising firm. One of our biggest clients was NARAL -- then the National Abortion Rights Action League, now NARAL Pro-Choice America. One of my jobs was to identify and counter common objections to fundraising appeals and someone came to me with one that I thought was pretty much a gimme. People were objecting that, while they were supportive of a woman's right to choose, they were also sympathetic to complaints by anti-abortion types that they shouldn't have to their tax dollars paying for abortion. This just wouldn't be fair.

The first words out of my mouth were, "What makes them so special?" After all, the number of Americans who can't point to some use of taxpayer money that they're against is probably so tiny as to be almost non-existent. By this argument, should Quakers be forced to pay for the military, should environmentalists be forced to subsidize roadbuilding in wilderness areas, should privacy advocates have to fund the NSA and human right supporters have to foot the bill for Gitmo? From the death penalty to war to torture to domestic surveillance, people are forced to pay for things they passionately oppose. Setting abortion aside, as if it were somehow a special circumstance for "pro-life" taxpayers, would be absurd -- akin to letting animal rights activists skip on paying for the meat portion of meals served to military personnel.

But, in Washington, never bet against the absurd. When the legislative sausage is made, a key ingredient is often a heaping scoop of stupid. Or, as was the case this weekend, Stupak.

See, the House passage of a healthcare reform bill this weekend came with a price. Ambulance services wouldn't be covered, because of the deep religious beliefs of the Amish. No, wait. I misread that. Anti-abortion people won't have to pay for abortions. In fact, no one will. Abortion, a legal medical procedure, has been made all but illegal for insurers to cover. For this, we can thank Rep. Bart Stupak and 240 members of Congress. Many of those voting to add the measure voted against the final bill anyway -- the entire reform bill passed 220-215.

Stupak, a Blue Dog Democrat and member of the C Street cult "the family," managed to get a vote on his amendment at the last minute. And not without a lot of behind-the-scenes drama.


One by one, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had leaned on her rank-and-file Democrats for months to cast off personal prerogatives for the sake of a history-making health care bill.

But for Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, this was too much to ask.

So when Pelosi announced late Friday that she would allow an amendment strictly limiting insurance coverage of abortions, it touched off an angry yelling match between DeLauro and another Pelosi confidant, California Rep. George Miller, and tears from some veteran female lawmakers, according to people in the room.

Some of the lawmakers argued that Pelosi was turning her back on a decades-long campaign by female Democratic members in support of abortion rights. Miller rose to Pelosi’s defense, which resulted in an angry confrontation between him and DeLauro, said the sources.

To get the skinny on what the Stupak amendment would actually mean, it shouldn't surprise anyone that I turned to NARAL:

The Stupak-Pitts amendment forbids any plan offering abortion coverage in the new system from accepting even one subsidized customer. Since more than 80 percent of the participants in the exchange will be subsidized, it seems certain that all health plans will seek and accept these individuals. In other words, the Stupak-Pitts amendment forces plans in the exchange to make a difficult choice: either offer their product to 80 percent of consumers in the marketplace or offer abortion services in their benefits package. It seems clear which choice they will make.

As I said, under the amendment, covering abortion will become all but illegal. Anti-abortion types won't have to pay for abortions and neither will anyone else. Meanwhile, you'll still be buying Viagra. No controversy in covering that.

Still, it seems likely that the House bill wouldn't have passed if it weren't for the amendment. Apparently, 240 House members believe that people's objection to abortion are more important than your objections to war or the death penalty or whatever various and sundry nightmares you're paying for. And 64 of those were Democrats. I know how my rep voted, you might want to see which way yours went. I don't get to yell at Rep. Tammy Baldwin very often, so do me a favor and yell at yours if they're among the yeas, OK?

But I guess that's how the sausage is made; two steps forward, one step back. It isn't pretty and it isn't fair, it just is. And that's why it never ends. We like to believe that we elect all the right people and everything gets fixed and stays fine forever, but that's not the way democracy works. It's always a fight for what's right and it's always a struggle for progress. It'll keep going that way, day after day, until the final day of the republic. What we lose, we can gain back -- and what we gain, we can lose.

I always say, after you win, don't go anywhere. You aren't done by a long shot. This issue isn't going away and neither should you.


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UPDATE: 41 House Democrats have sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi vowing not to vote for a bill with the Stupak Amendment. The House bill will be sent with the Senate bill to committee to be combined, then the bills will have to be passed in the chambers.

"I am confident that when it comes back from the conference committee that that language won't be there," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said during an appearance on MSNBC. "And I think we're all going to be working very hard, particularly the pro-choice members, to make sure that's the case."

If it's never really over, then that means that you never definitively lose.


Punk Johnny Cash said...

What makes them so special to oppose a tax? Why would someone wish to not have their possessions taken from them be special? If I used threat of force to take your money, or car from you what would make you so special to object to that? That's the problem with you republicans and democrats you just blindly accept force of state as a single solution. Why not, we've done it since before recorded history, just like rape. We assume that force upon another is how things are, and that is how it will be.

Pete Muldoon said...

Well, because in the entire recorded history of the planet, there has been no government without tax. So if you just want to abolish government, you should go ahead and make that argument.

Anonymous said...

Well his name does have 'Punk' in it so he's probably some kind of anarchist.

JohnnyB said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Harold Fowler said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Oh the Huge Manatee said...

Congratulations! You officially get the point.

The people arguing that they don't want to provide care they might not agree with for someone they might not think is worthy, ALSO believe that your money should not support the government activities you don't agree with. That's the whole point of the argument. According to these people (and a good many founding American philosophers), Government shouldn't be any more active than absolutely necessary, because there are ALWAYS taxpayers who disagree with what it's doing... And taking someone's money to support something they oppose is morally wrong.

A great example: if you live in Kansas, a significant part of your effort goes to support teaching creationism in schools. If you're a rational person living in Kansas, you might consider that you're getting robbed: if you refuse to pay the school tax that buys those Creationist "textbooks", someone with a gun will come to your door and take you away by force. It's remarkably similar to the argument you might face in a dark alley in Detroit.

So if you believe that it's wrong for your money to be "stolen" to support wars of aggression; if you believe that it's wrong that you are forced to support Guantanamo Bay with your every day of work; if you believe it's wrong that 1/3rd of the year you're working directly to support the DEA SWAT teams; these beliefs put you in a difficult position. After all, why is it wrong for one group to force you to pay for these activities, but it's right for you to force them to pay for things they disagree with?

At first glance this shouldn't apply for healthcare. After all, healthy is healthy, right? Not necessarily. Needs for care are very different in different cultures: the Asian-influenced West Coast might be furious if acupuncture was not included as a medical option in a national insurance plan. At the same time, people in Texas might be just as angry that their money was going to support such snake oil salesmen. Ultimately, compromises must be made. Some people are going to be "robbed." So what makes that different from the robbery that forces you to pay for HomeSec spy planes?

Christopher said...

Punk Johnny Cash and Manatee are correct.

I don't want to support abortion. Nor do I want to support bank bailouts or the Iraq War or the Drug War or any other kind of government welfare and warfare (especially when it only enriches the rich and powerful). If you want it, pay for it yourself.

And anonymous is correct too. This makes me an anarchist.

Trapezoidal said...

It's called the social contract, get over it acha-chacha-cha!

HeroicLife said...

Maybe we just shouldn't pay to enforce other people's moral dogmas?

Christopher said...

I never signed the social contract. I implicitly agree to not harming anyone, but it'd be a pretty lame call to say that I implicitly agreed to pay for war and abortion. And I sure as hell didn't explicitly agree.

Yes. exactly.

Anonymous said...

Want to know what makes them special? The first amendment of the Constitution gives people the freedom of religion and states that the government should make no law prohibiting the exercise thereof. There is no Constitutional amendment protecting your right to oppose war or the legal system just because you don't like it. So yes, religious beliefs are different and are specially protected as compared to non-religious beliefs. Deal with it. Also, lets not forget that Congress has no authority to tax people to provide things like health care and abortions to the public under the Constitution; this entire health care bill is Unconstitutional. However Congress does have authority to tax for war, federal prisons and legal systems. Therefore, these people have another advantage over you in that the tax they are opposed to is illegal and illegitimate. The taxes you are opposed to are very legal.

Sean said...

So uh... *raises hand*

Ideal situation for an anarchist, I assume, would be to find a hypothetical undeveloped island and organize it with a ton of people, in such a way that each member of the population would be self-sufficient in financial and regulatory matters? Okay. That could be almost Utopian if you can get a functional society without a government to influence it, but disastrous if you can't.

I'd like to see that work out, though. It'd provide another option for a valid belief system that now only exists conceptually (within another system, I might add, that violently contradicts it.)

Deeply spiritual said...

"Want to know what makes them special? The first amendment of the Constitution gives people the freedom of religion and states that the government should make no law prohibiting the exercise thereof."

Hey dude. My religion says do not murder, so my tax dollars should not go to fund the death penalty. Live by the sword, die by the sword? I interpret that as a call against war. Give me my money back from Iraq and other conflicts. Do you see how this might spiral out of control? What is legal for one is legal for all, in this nation. And you misread the constitution. It allows the federal government to do all sorts of things, but you wouldn't understand that. How's Glen Beck's new book?

stacey said...

It's funny because people who are anti-abortion get screwed in the end anyway because they're paying for all these people who keep poppin out kids and can't afford them to have food stamps, health care and all kinds of benefits. That people who have jobs and no kids don't even have! http//

kayjayoh said...

Want to know what makes them special? The first amendment of the Constitution gives people the freedom of religion and states that the government should make no law prohibiting the exercise thereof. There is no Constitutional amendment protecting your right to oppose war or the legal system just because you don't like it. So yes, religious beliefs are different and are specially protected as compared to non-religious beliefs.

Echoing what Deeply Spiritual said, I believe what you mean here is actually "some people's religious beliefs are different and are specially protected as compared to other people's religious beliefs" which is, of course, bullshit.

brent said...

Thoreau was imprisoned for not paying the poll tax which was being used to support the war on Mexico.

What you need to do is to be just. You have an obligation not to commit injustice and not to give injustice your practical support.

Paying taxes is one way in which otherwise well-meaning people collaborate in injustice. People who proclaim that the war in Iraq is wrong contradict themselves if they fund it by paying taxes. The same people who applaud soldiers for refusing to fight an unjust war contradict themselves by not refusing to fund the government that started the war.

Why do people obey government laws when they believe it to be unjust?

"The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. ... Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice."

Anonymous said...

I think the perception of the Right is more that they feel abortion should be illegal, which makes them more passionate about not wanting to fund it.

While we all might not agree with the war in Iraq (or war in general), there is and never will be anything illegal about it, and it is a natural and never-ending process, so we more or less have to bite the bullet and pay up.

To put it another way...funding abortions with tax money is akin to using tax money to fund Bible Curriculum in all public schools - perfectly legal, but improbable due to the opposing base.