Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley this week separated herself from the gang of essentially like-minded candidates seeking to fill Senator Ted Kennedy's Washington seat by rejecting the US House of Representatives compromise that traded approval of a health-care-reform bill for greater restrictions to abortion access. Good for Coakley.
Coakley's opposition is not only principled; as more becomes known about the pernicious nature of the House compromise, her position demonstrates foresight. And in political terms, it also appears shrewd. Coakley's chief Democratic rival, US Representative Michael Capuano, now has egg on his face. After blasting Coakley for her congressional naiveté, Capuano conceded that he will vote against a final measure that does not erase the abortion compromise.
Conservatives are trying to scare the pants off Americans by claiming that "Obama Care" — their code name for a government overhaul of health policies and practices — would limit individuals' choices and regulate the kinds of treatment they can or cannot receive.
Is it ironic, then, that a coalition of Republicans and Blue-Dog Democrats would engineer restricted care to women? Not at all.
Irony is too subtle a concept for these snake-oil salesmen. Their stock and trade is deception, employing the big lie, saying one thing and turning around and doing the very thing they decry.
The agency of this deception is the Stupak-Pitts Amendment. It is the work of Democratic representative Bart Stupak of Michigan and Republican representative Joseph Pitts of Pennsylvania. Both are anti-abortion die-hards. Stupak, a Catholic, is considered an amiable clod; Pitts, an Evangelical, is presumed to be the team's brains.
The Stupak-Pitts Amendment will force private insurers — who, after all, will receive government funds — to curtail or abandon abortion coverage. It is a radical extension of the Hyde Amendment, which already prevents most federal funds from being used for abortions. But unlike the Hyde Amendment, which shamefully impacts low-income women, the Stupak-Pitts Amendment would extend the reach of anti-choice zealots.
The details of this amendment are disturbing on their own terms. But its triumph — for the time being, at least — testifies to the growing influence of right-wing religiosity within Democratic ranks.
An alliance of fundamentalist Catholics and conservative Evangelicals known as the "co-belligerency" is increasingly active in Washington. When in the capital, Stupak lives in a C Street house that is home to other religious conservatives. The house is owned by "The Family," a secretive organization not unlike Opus Dei, the shadowy Ultramontane Catholic organization that attracts — among others — those with neo-fascist sympathies.
It is testament to how torturous the health-care-reform effort has been that Democrats have been either witless or sufficiently desperate enough to agree to even the prospect of further restriction to abortion access. As many as 40 House members have pledged to reject a final bill that contains the Stupak-Pitts Amendment. And in the Senate, where the health-care effort now moves, there is opposition.
Coakley's rejection of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment highlights what may become a key question for pro-choice Democrats, if or when a final health-reform bill comes to a vote: when does the acceptance half a loaf rather than a whole degenerate into the abandonment of fundamental principles? The line may be fine, but it is real.