Group laments 'fierce anti-abortion language,' cites 'male-dominated' Democratic Party in Coakley loss
WASHINGTON -- As Democrats weigh options for health reform following a major setback in the Massachusetts election, the nation's leading womens' rights group blasted the legislation as "beyond outrageous."
The National Organization for Women (NOW) harbors deep concerns with the Senate health legislation, and exclaims that "women will be better off with no bill whatsoever."
"The Senate bill contains such fierce anti-abortion language, and there are other problems from the point of view of women," NOW's President Terry O'Neill told Raw Story in an interview.
O'Neill said NOW "will not support candidates in 2010 if they vote for it."
House Democratic leaders have said they won't take up the Senate bill, citing party divisions, so NOW's immediate concern has been averted. But the group's staunch opposition shines a spotlight on the divisions Democrats will have to confront as they move forward on health care and other issues.
NOW's resolute opposition, she said, became inevitable after the anti-abortion provisions added in the 11th hour at the request of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE).
O'Neill said as a result of Nelson's amendment, "insurance companies will in a few years stop offering abortion care even in private policies because it's too much of an administrative hassle," forcing women to "pay for abortions out of their own pockets."
"That's the conclusion of the George Washington University School of Public Health," she added.
"The Nelson amendment achieved the same outcome -- through very different means -- as the Stupak-Pitts amendment over on the House side. It takes a little bit longer, maybe 2 to 4 years longer."
"Health care is a basic human right, and both the Senate bill and the House bill presume to take this human right away only from women, and not from men. Only women are targeted. So we say, you know what, kill the health bill entirely."
Says 'male-dominated Democratic Party' partly responsible for Coakley's loss
O'Neill said the Republican Scott Brown's victory over Democrat Martha Coakley in Tuesday's Massachusetts election was "a referendum on business as usual in Washington" and "voter disappointment about change that has not happened."
"It's a lot about health care," she added. "The Senate bill is a giveaway to the insurance companies, and reminiscent of the bank bailout. People voted against that in 2008, they voted for change."
O'Neill ripped the "the closed door negotiations" that many believe took place in the shaping of the bill, saying that "people want transparency."
She said the Democratic leadership's actions on health care have been similar to the Bush administration's tendency to write legislation secretively and "jam it down the throats of Congress."
While accepting that the bill is flawed, many Democrats argue the process of passing it and extending coverage required regrettable giveaways. Progressives are divided as to whether the final outcome is worth supporting.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, a highly respected progressive voice, has urged passage of the legislation despite its issues.
"[L]et’s all take a deep breath, and consider just how much good this bill would do, if passed — and how much better it would be than anything that seemed possible just a few years ago," Krugman argued last month.
"With all its flaws, the Senate health bill would be the biggest expansion of the social safety net since Medicare, greatly improving the lives of millions. Getting this bill would be much, much better than watching health care reform fail," he said.
O'Neill had high praise for Coakley, calling her a "true friend of women."
"We strongly endorsed Coakley. She is a great leader, she is a good candidate. "We need more women like Martha Coakley to run for office. More women run, more women will win."
The NOW president said the "male-dominated Democratic Party" is not doing women any favors by bringing in anti-abortion zealots," slamming Nelson and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), whose amendment to restrict abortion coverage in the House health bill passed minutes before the final vote.
"Women are clearly harmed" by these lawmakers, O'Neill said. "Shame on the male-dominated Democratic Party for supporting them. They hold themselves out as the party that is women-friendly; well they're not acting like it."
"And that has a lot to do with why Martha Coakley lost this election," O'Neill alleged, explaining the Democrats' loss of Ted Kennedy's seat with an argument that few others have made.
The White House and DNC slammed Coakley on Tuesday for running a weak campaign and refused to take the blame for her loss.