Abortion Debaters Agree on One Thing

Black advocates for and against pregnancy termination see defeat in health care reform.

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In the end, some African-American pro-life and pro-choice advocates see President Barack Obama's sweeping health care reform measure as a major defeat.

Now, both sides have pledged ardent campaigns against elected officials who voted for the landmark health care reform legislation that passed late Sunday and was signed into law on Tuesday by the president.

In the measure, President Obama pledged to issue an executive order banning the use of federal money to pay for abortions, a deal that ended a months-long stalemate between the administration and anti-abortion Democrats like Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who did not want federal money to pay for the procedures, except for those permitted under the Hyde Amendment. (The Hyde Amendment does not allow the government to pay for abortions except in extreme cases, such as incest, rape or to save the life of a mother.)

Some pro-lifers do not see the executive order as binding, while some pro-choice advocates see it as far more so than the Hyde Amendment, which was signed into law each year. Both sides said they need more political allies who could plead their case during critical votes such as health care reform.

A deflated Loretta J. Ross, national coordinator of SisterSong, Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, an Atlanta-based pro-choice group, said she felt sold out. She said during the process of hammering out an agreement, pro-lifers had a disproportionate amount of powerful representatives who outnumbered pro-choicers even though they had the support of Planned Parenthood, one of the largest pro-choice groups in the nation, and the support of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, among others.

"It's a setback for pro-choice,'' Ross said of the health care reform legislation. "If pro-lifers believe they took a loss, they have a way of distorting reality. They have the Hyde Amendment. Now, they are saying that an executive order is not legally binding. They need to go to law school. I can't help that they have such a flawed interpretation of an executive order.''

Because of the order, Ross said instead of having a fighting chance every year to change an amendment, pro-choice advocates now have to wait to see if the president will change his mind. "I think the Democratic Party has made a big mistake,'' she said.

Toni M. Bond Leonard, co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Black Women for Reproductive Justice, a pro-choice organization in Chicago, expressed disappointment about what she called restrictions on abortion because of the new law.

"It's about access to the critical services women need,'' Leonard said. "What this means for low-income women is yet again they are being thrown under the bus away from access to vital health care.''

"What this bill did was to make people realize that the Democratic Party is more committed to itself than its brothers and sisters who have yet to be born,'' said the Rev. Johnny M. Hunter, national director of the Life, Education and Resource Network, a pro-life organization in Fayetteville, N.C. "It's not only Stupak, but John Lewis with his jive self. He's a sellout. He done forgot where he came from. This whole thing is not going to end. We are taking it to the streets. ''