Do Abortion-Rights Supporters Deserve 'Payback'?

Abortion-rights supporters arguably threw up a white flag in health-care reform, deciding not to hold up the entire bill on their specific issue. And that, Katha Pollitt argues over at The Nation, means that women's-rights groups deserve payback. "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," she writes in the April 5 issue, adding a few lines down that "The Democratic Party and the Obama administration owe supporters of women's rights a huge payback for cooperating on its signature issue." Among her suggestions: full funding for Title X and swift action on the Fair Paycheck Act.

Pollitt is right on one point: anti-abortion rights groups got shorted in health-care reform. Even the senators who support abortion rights, and helped craft the Nelson language, admit that it was by no means ideal. But the second point—that, for this blow, reproductive-rights organizations are owed something—strikes me as misguided in a few ways.

First, it rests on the premise that women's-rights groups got completely screwed with the health-care bill and therefore deserve future retribution. But that's just not the case; women's-rights groups that lost on abortion won on a whole host of other issues last night, including the end of gender rating and increased access to family planning. While Planned Parenthood opposes the abortion restrictions, its president, Cecile Richards, had no trouble finding elements to praise. From a statement earlier today:

Planned Parenthood applauds the fact that this legislation would extend health care coverage, including family planning, to tens of millions of women and families, guarantee access to affordable life-saving screenings for cervical and breast cancer and other serious health problems, protect women against gender discrimination by private insurers, end the practice of dropping coverage because of pre-existing conditions, and significantly increase access to reproductive health care.

And this from NARAL:

The legislation includes an onerous provision that requires Americans to write two separate checks if the insurance plan they choose includes abortion coverage ... At the same time, we recognize that the bill will bring more than 30 million Americans into a system that includes affordable family-planning services, better access to contraception, and maternity care. It also outlaws some discriminatory insurance-industry practices that make health care more expensive for women.

Nancy Pelosi, too, praised the bill last night as a personal victory for women. "After we pass this bill," she declared, "being a woman will no longer be a preexisting medical condition." All of the bill's women's-health provisions are arguably just as important as Pollitt's options for "payback," if not more so.

Moreover, regardless of whether women's-rights groups are "owed" a legislative favor, there's little to no incentive for Democrats to provide it. So any debate over what repayment ought to look like is largely a moot one; abortion-rights supporters are essentially locked in with the party's support for a woman's right to choose. Failing to fund Title X won't send them fleeing to the Republican Party.