If healthcare reform becomes law, you can thank prochoicers. In the end, forced to decide between sacrificing abortion coverage and voting down coverage of everything else for 30 million people, abortion-rights supporters took the hit. Prochoice representatives, who had vowed to vote against any bill that restricted access to abortion more than the infamous Hyde Amendment has already done, will have reversed themselves and voted for it. (Don't kid yourselves, the Senate bill is a major blow to abortion rights. As antichoice evangelical David Gushee told followers stuck on Stupak: "Accept victory while you can get it.") NARAL, Planned Parenthood and NOW stepped back. You can call prochoice leaders hypocritical or cowardly or feeble or excessively deferential to the president's agenda. But one thing you can't call them is selfishly obsessed with their own political purity. That would be the antichoicers--the Catholic bishops, Bart Stupak, Ben Nelson. They were the big evil babies who were willing to let millions suffer and 45,000 people die every year unless they got to deprive women of their reproductive rights.
The way I see it, the Democratic Party and the Obama administration owe supporters of women's rights a huge payback for cooperating on its signature issue. Some suggestions:
§ Full funding for Title X, the only federal program dedicated to supplying reproductive health services to low-income women and men. Title X started off with a bang under the Nixon administration--back when Republicans like George H.W. "Rubbers" Bush thought family planning was a good idea--but for decades it has been allowed to stagnate. The 2009 budget added $7.5 million to the previous year's $300 million for the program--but that's still less than half the rate of thirty years ago, after adjusting for inflation.
§ Full speed ahead on the Paycheck Fairness Act. Obama got a lot of credit for making the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act the first bill he signed into law as president, but it only restored women's right to sue for pay discrimination to the status quo ante of the Supreme Court's drastic ruling in Ledbetter v. Goodyear. If women are to get equal pay for equal work--a goal just about everyone professes to share--we need laws with teeth, which the PFA has.
§ Confront maternal mortality. A shocking report just out from Amnesty International details the doubling of the US maternal mortality rate over the past two decades. More than 700 die every year; during 2004 and '05, 68,000 nearly died, and one-third of pregnant women--1.7 million annually--suffer complications. At 13.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, the United States is in forty-first place internationally; for black women it's a staggering 32.7--down there with Mongolia and Bahrain. Causes? Fragmented care full of barriers to access for low-income women, lack of information, lack of contraception and abortion (sorry, "prolifers"), overmedicalization. Amnesty calls it a human rights crisis and has put together a long list of proposals, including the establishment within the Department of Health and Human Services of an Ofﬁce of Maternal Health with a mandate to improve maternal care and outcomes. Let's have it.
§ Pass CEDAW. Jimmy Carter signed it back in 1980, but the United States is one of a handful of countries that have not ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The others? Sudan, Somalia, Iran and a few Pacific islands. Despite the fact that Congress has burdened CEDAW with no fewer than eleven reservations, nearly all of which were placed there by Jesse Helms to please Concerned Women for America and other antifeminist and Christian groups, it still hasn't come to a vote. So pass it, already--and Helms is dead, so dump the reservations. Don't have the votes? Vote on it anyway. American women should know which senators think we should have fewer human rights than women in nearly every other democratic country in the world.
§ Fully fund the Violence Against Women Act, which comes up for reauthorization in 2011 and has never been given resources adequate to the immense task of combating rape, domestic violence, harassment, stalking and other abuses. Read the riot act to the Department of Education, which has used its power only six times in twenty years to fine schools that fail to report sex crimes on campus. According to a joint investigation of the Center for Public Integrity and NPR, colleges rarely expel men found to have committed sexual assaults, while victims often lack support and eventually drop out or transfer. Every college that takes federal funds--which is almost all of them--needs to be put on notice that the days of coddling rapists are over.
§ Speaking of violence against women, Dems, would you look in the effing mirror? New York's Hiram Monserrate and David Paterson? Scott Lee Cohen in Illinois? That these men and others like them could get as far as they did says the culture of the party is tone-deaf when it comes to abuse and its warning signs. The only way to detoxify politics of tolerance for violence is to have lots more women in office. If India can pass a law requiring Parliament to be one-third women, surely the Democratic Party can figure out how to achieve equal numbers of women here. Pro-choice women. Feminist women.
Start by backing the grassroots campaign of former teacher and county commissioner Connie Saltonstall, who has announced her intention to challenge Bart Stupak in the August primary. "He has a right to his personal, religious views," says Saltonstall, "but to deprive his constituents of needed healthcare reform because of those views is reprehensible." Now there's a woman with gumption and a gift for stating things clearly.
It's our turn now.