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On A Congressman's Opposition to Health-Care Reform

Good piece in the Michigan Messenger about how opposition from congressman Bart Stupak to health-care reform could worsen the burden on poor mothers and children in his own hard-hit northern Michigan district.

Stupak's district currently has no facilities that perform abortions — the target of his opposition — but it does have several hospitals that have closed, or are soon to close, their obstetrics departments that provide vital pre- and post-natal care to pregnant women due to the high number of uninsured and Medicaid patients in the district, a problem that the bill he may prevent from passing would help solve.

Despite this acknowledgment of the importance of health care reform, Stupak has essentially been holding health care reform hostage to his demand for language preventing all public funding for abortion. He says he speaks for 11 other House Democrats who are pro-life and that they will all refuse to vote for the current bill unless they get their way on abortion.

Since the House version of the bill — which contained an explicit ban on abortion funding via an amendment offered by Stupak — only passed by a three vote margin the first time, there is a very good chance this intransigence could kill the last chance for getting health care reform passed.

Stupak's opposition to the bill has been written about at length in other places for months now, but most of the discussion has focused on what his stance means in terms of the calculus of Washington, D.C., politics: How will his position hurt President Obama? How will it impact the inside baseball of the Democratic Party and the House of Representatives?

But I'm like, who cares?

First off, it seems to me that Stupak is flogging a moot point here, as his argument about the bill's abortion language was debunked by ABC News nearly two weeks ago. (Moreover, it seems his most recent complaints are falling on deaf ears, as the House leadership has said it'd move on with its health-care reform push without Stupak's language inserted.)

But even if there's more to his position than grand-standing -- and I have no reason to think he's anything but sincere in his opposition to abortion rights -- I hate to think that Stupak would stand against real reform that could benefit so many people who're now hurting in his district. I get that he may have an ideological opposition to abortion -- but it's the law of the land already, and holding up a bill like this, a bill that could make a real difference in the lives of real women and real children, in the name of that kind of ideological rigidity, is short-sighted, IMO.

And in light of what health-care reform might mean to poor women throughout this state, and in this city, who cares what Stupak's opposition means for the Obama presidency or the Democratic Party?

Last I checked, the President, Congress and high-ranking political operatives aren't the ones hurting for access to quality pre- and post-natal care. And they aren't the ones dying in an increasing number of maternal deaths here and around the country, a trend Amnesty International USA decried as "scandalous." Instead, it's women throughout Michigan -- in poor rural communities and depressed urban centers alike -- who are dying in pregnancy and child birth at a rate of 13.6 per 100,000 While I have major problems with the health-care reform legislation that's being discussed, I think it represents a palatable starting point for real change in how Americans view and pay for medical care. Further, as Salon suggests in a piece on Stupak's opposition, health-care reform might actually lower the number of abortions in the country.

But the choice Stupak's faced with isn't a health reform bill that permits abortion coverage and a health reform bill that doesn't. It's between a health reform bill that permits abortion coverage and no health reform bill at all—an outcome Stupak (following the lead of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) says he's willing to accept.

And this is the part that gets me the most. I've just never understood the value or logic in opposing social programs and progressive change for the children who've already been born by claiming to do so in the name of those who haven't.

What are your thoughts on Stupak's current opposition to health care? Is the Michigan congressman right or is his stance short-sighted? More than that, though, what impact do you think the failure to pass health-care reform could mean for some of the poorest women and children in the state?

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