Common Ground Reached in Ryan/DeLauro Bill; Want Reproductive Health Care Coverage? Bring It.

By Christine Cupaiuolo — July 23, 2009

In what’s being touted as a legitimate display of common ground, two Democratic representatives, pro-life Tim Ryan of Ohio and pro-choice Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, are introducing legislation today aimed at reducing the number of abortions by expanding pregnancy prevention programs while also increasing government support for mothers.

Steven Waldman has a good summary of the bill’s provisions.

The bill, “Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act,” was first introduced in 2007, but as Amy Sullivan writes at Time, Ryan and DeLauro “could persuade only one religious organization — and not a single abortion-rights group — to support them.”

Compare that with today, when “leaders from Planned Parenthood and NARAL will be crowded elbow to elbow with Catholics and conservative Evangelicals to stand behind Ryan and DeLauro. It may not be an end to the culture war, but it looks a lot like a cease-fire.”

Sullivan continues:

Aside from its support for contraception, none of the new or expanded initiatives it contains are terribly controversial: a national campaign to teach parents how to talk to their kids about sex, efforts to educate the public about adoption, home nurse visits for low-income mothers, expanded postpartum Medicaid coverage.

Interestingly, the arduous work of getting traditional adversaries on the abortion issue to endorse the Ryan-DeLauro effort had relatively little to do with concerns about the substance of specific provisions. Instead, the bill’s backers found they needed to give people on both sides time to learn to let down their guard a little after decades of skirmishes. “We had to reach a level of trust,” says DeLauro. “Because so often this issue has been one about which there was nothing other than trying to score political points.”

One way to encourage trust was to make changes that Rachel Laser, director of the culture program of the think tank Third Way, says were designed to “turn down the heat.” Laser began her career in the pro-choice community and agreed four years ago to help Ryan craft a common-ground bill. She shouldered the task of patiently hearing out each group’s concerns and turning them into a final product that could garner broad support without being uselessly watered down or split into two. When abortion-rights advocates, for example, objected to a provision to have abortion providers obtain what is called “informed consent” from patients (a requirement already mandated in all 50 states), Laser removed it. And she did the same when some of the bill’s pro-life supporters complained that a section requiring homes for pregnant women to provide family-planning counseling would take funding away from Catholic group homes that don’t support contraception.

Of course, not everyone is convinced. Democrats for Life kicked Ryan off its national advisory board for supporting the bill. Why is it so hard for some folks to see that contraception is the easiest way to prevent abortion? Maybe because it’s really not about life; it’s about control.

Meanwhile, the debate over insurance coverage for reproductive health services continues. Yes, it’s frustrating work — making sure health reform addresses the needs of a mere 51 percent of the population. But as Jodi Jacobson writes at RH Reality Check, if women want coverage for reproductive health services, or simply want to keep the coverage they have now for reproductive health care, contraception and abortion services, they have to demand it.

Last week, at the 2009 Planned Parenthood Organizing and Policy Summit, Tina Tchen, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement — on a panel with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and PPFA President Cecile Richards — told participants it’s time to “bring it” and get back into campaign mode.

Jacobson explains what we’re up against:

Some of the opposition comes from likely suspects and is based on misinformation campaigns that belie their true purpose. Republicans in Congress, like Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative Mike Pence — who introduced an amendment today to the House appropriations bills to defund Planned Parenthood — just can’t seem to get the connection between increased access to prevention services, improved health and reduced need for abortions, the women’s right they love to hate.

And it is no surprise that groups like Family Research Council and the National Right to Life Committee are against not only funding for abortion services, but also for contraception. FRC, for example, continues to perpetuate myths about an amendment to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee health reform bill originally sponsored by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). This amendment, which was passed, would ensure coverage of well-woman care, HIV prevention and testing, pap smears, pregnancy care, and contraceptive supplies. FRC continues to claim it forces taxpayers to pay for abortions for the first time in 30 years.

It does not address abortion coverage. At all.

But then there are Democrats who may either “cut a deal” on coverage of abortion services or who oppose it outright.

For example: while the House and Senate HELP Committees have passed their bills, and neither of those includes any restrictions on coverage of reproductive health care, Tchen noted:

This was not easy to achieve in committee and won’t be easy to hold on to the Senate floor or on the House floor. And the President can not do it alone. His efforts alone will not be enough. It will take each of you to raise your voices when you go home and here in DC and to spread the word.

We’ve been posting action alerts from groups such as National Women’s Law Center and National Partnership for Women and Families. Visit their websites and the sites of PPFA and NARAL Pro-Choice America, all of which are mobilizing efforts to protect reproductive health coverage. Raising Women’s Voices blog has also been keeping tabs on the debate.

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