Obama says not funding abortions is “tradition”

While Jos alerted us a couple of weeks ago to the anti-choice Democrats who are trying to keep abortion funding out of the health care reform plan, a recent interview with our president makes us wonder if he’s caving into their efforts.
In an interview with Katie Couric this week, he finally addressed abortion funding in health care reform, but it wasn’t too pleasing; he asserted he wasn’t looking to “micro-manage” which benefits are covered and that not funding abortion has generally been “the tradition”:

Katie Couric: Do you favor a government option that would cover abortions?
President Obama: What I think is important, at this stage, is not trying to micromanage what benefits are covered. Because I think we’re still trying to get a framework. And my main focus is making sure that people have the options of high quality care at the lowest possible price.
As you know, I’m pro choice. But I think we also have a tradition of, in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government funded health care. Rather than wade into that issue at this point, I think that it’s appropriate for us to figure out how to just deliver on the cost savings, and not get distracted by the abortion debate at this station. (Emphasis mine)

Well, that doesn’t sound very pro-choice. Dana at TAPPED makes the connection to the Hyde Amendment:

That is a reference to the Hyde Amendment, which currently prevents Medicaid coverage of abortions for poor women. And while none of the health reform bills in Congress threaten Hyde, reproductive health advocates have been trying for decades to repeal the ban. By deferring to this “tradition,” Obama seems to be signaling that he could support a public plan that excludes abortion coverage.

This is despite the fact that during his campaign, he stated that he opposed the amendment. Dana Goldstein has more. Read more about the Hyde Amendment here. And take action here.

Join the Conversation

  • KaylaR

    I’m stunned. This just seems to be politics as usual to me. Even if he is trying to push health care reform (though now it seems to be dying out unfortunately), that does not mean he should accept it any form.

  • Jos

    Singling out a specific set of medical procedures to exclude from coverage or continuing the despicable “tradition” set in place by anti-choice legislators = “micromanaging” health care.

  • LoLo

    Thank you for posting this, I have posted an edited version of it on my twitter and facebook as well.

  • RMJ

    Hey Vanessa, thanks for letting us know.
    FYI, the link above goes to the form with your name/address. Here’s a link with blank information fields:

  • Ashley

    It is incredibly disappointing that healthcare reform will not include funding for abortions. However, the President is right, federal funds are not currently used for abortions. Funding them now would be a huge change in federal policy, and this is not the venue for that. It is going to be hard enough to get health care reform passed, a measure funding abortions would certainly kill this bill, and universal health care would remain a talking point.

  • Caro13

    “As you know, I’m pro-choice… except when throwing low-income women under the bus can save me some trouble!”

  • Vanessa

    Yikes! Thanks, RMJ :)

  • dangerfield

    This is upsetting and regrettable, but this is also politics, and politics is the art of compromise.
    The sad truth is that passing the foundation for a universal health care plan is going to require mollifying some conservatives. We can’t help that. IF conservatives force a soft line on abortion, then that is still worth ensuring this reform for the millions of men and women that need it. Then we go back to congress to strengthen the law and try to get abortion funding (because, god dammit, reproductive health is a human right).
    Without diminishing the importance of access to abortion, isn’t compromise on the measure better than leaving the whole thing on the table? Because a nation where no one wants for health coverage but the government doesn’t fund abortions is still better than a nation where millions of women can’t afford coverage and the government still doesn’t fund abortions.

  • http://openid.aol.com/percat6

    The United States also has a TRADITION of electing white guys to presidential office. Obama’s election means we’re SICK of racist/sexist/classist/etc policies, because he promised CHANGE.

  • hfs

    Disappointing, but you had to see this coming. Social issues have taken and will continue to take a back seat during this administration. Obama just isn’t willing to spend any political capital on choice or gay rights issues, and no amount of wishing will make it so.

  • aleks

    Legislators are micromanaging healthcare. That’s what Congress does, it writes bills and passes them in some negotiated form. Obama says that he’s not going to try to micromanage what Congress does.

  • aleks

    If not dropping everything else to wage war over every issue regarding abortion makes Obama non-pro-choice, then we will never and should never have a president who meets your standard of pro-choice. Obama also has to care about other things, like the economy and the wars and getting healthcare for poor people. Bush tried to wage all other issues with one eye on abortion, it make for (or contributed to) incredibly inept policy and staffing decisions.

  • femmi

    His statement is pretty ironic. Like being pro-choice is just a statement- he doesn’t seem to feel the need to back that up with action.
    However, I would like to be optomistic and think that perhaps he is thinking long term. Health care reform is a large enough task, nevermind adding on the task of overriding a largely anti-abortion government. Maybe he is thinking they should take care of health care first, and later tackle abortion funding? I think (just a guess) that if he appears too “left” so early in his presidency, he will lose a great deal of voters in the next election. The reality of a large number of right-wing voters is unfortunately determining what he is and is not able to do so early in his presidency. This is just my very optimistic thinking :)

  • Claudia

    It’s also been a tradition to have a white male president. I didn’t see him modestly refusing Office, passing on the presidency to McCain in honor of “tradition.”
    That’s the lamest excuse ever. Shame on him.

  • MzBitca

    I think that Obama is very aware of how Bush and republicans have used “culture war” issues to earn support and wave around as a battle flag. Do I think and and wish that he would just say, healthcare should not be administered on a moral code and instead provide coverage of all available medical procedures? Of course I do, but he knows that just even saying that will send people in a tailspin and cause a huge distraction. BOth pro-choice and pro-life organizations are working on making sure reproductive choice is either given or limited. I am afraid it will get thrown to the wolves and I would hope Obama would refuse to sign it but I don’t know if it will happen and I don’t know if sacrificing all healthcare is reason to tank the bill for others who need healthcare so they don’t die.

  • cattrack2

    I have a question for you folks saying “we also have a tradition of having white male presidents”. Is public funding of abortion a make-or-break decision for Universal Health Care? If the final bill doesn’t include abortion claims, are you saying he should veto it? Or are you reacting to the way he said it?

  • davenj

    And this shocks who, exactly? Tacking on abortion funding will kill this health care bill. Nobody’s going to sign on to the bill that, in the minds of almost half the public, uses government funds to kill babies.
    You might as well be angry that he’s not trying to graft on a gay marriage rider or reparations for slavery onto the health care bill.
    Politics means compromise, and twisting your words in order to appeal to the largest number of people. Obama’s a politician. He’s not a messianic figure who’s going to be everything for everyone like some people made him out to be. He’s just a guy who happens to be a center-left Democratic politician with a darker complexion from Hawaii by way of Illinois.
    A bill with abortion funding in it would die, and not only that, it would kill the Democratic party in 2010 and 2012. It’d be a huge political albatross.

  • aleks

    It’s happening right now, look at the way Republicans are trying to portray Obama as pro-black and anti-cop. Obviously they wish him ill at all times, but escalating the culture wars right now serves to weaken the Healthcare drive.

  • Flowers

    Ahhhh. I see. It’s Health Care “Kinda, Sorta, in a Way, but not Really, if it’s Traditionally Not Covered” Reform. Good to know. Not really that catchy though.

  • becca

    Ug. Too bad. However, its politics. Is making sure that gov’t health insurance covers abortion worth the risk of his health insurance reform plan completely fails. Is any single procedure worth it (what if it was lung cancer treatment for smokers?) Pass the reform. Then take on the abortion debate. My opinion is though abortions should be legal and available, sometimes they are elective and sometimes they are medically necessary. Insurance should be required to cover the medically necessary ones. Insurance should probably cover the elective ones too since from their perspective it would be cheaper than covering a full term pregnancy, but it shouldn’t be a requirement.

  • Mina

    “It is going to be hard enough to get health care reform passed, a measure funding abortions would certainly kill this bill, and universal health care would remain a talking point.”
    Good point about the realpolitik.

  • Tracey T

    Except that when it comes to “compromise” Dems have a history of rolling over and playing dead. DADT was a Dem “compromise.” I wouldn’t be so worried if I thought they had any idea of coming back to this issue, but I doubt they do. It’s not like we can honestly expect them to come back to the issue of funding abortions, why would they? Coming back to the issue would be political suicide for most of them, so while I see the point, if abortion funding isn’t covered in this, it probally won’t be covered period.

  • Tracey T

    For me it’s the way he said it. He could have easily said something along the lines of ” I will not let debate on abortion sink a bill that will help millions, blah, blah, blah” He even could have thrown in something like “This bill is about improving quality of life, not fighting the abortion wars, blah,blah,blah” instead of conflating non-govermental funding of abortion as “traditional” and all the conotations that has with it. Saying something along those lines would have driven home the point he wanted this bill passed and was not going to let it get mired down without legitmizing non-govermental funding.

  • SarahMC

    The culture wars? This isn’t about the culture wars to real women. This is about OUR HEALTH. OUR LIVES. FFS. Maybe it’s all just philosophical to you but to actual, living, breathing women it’s our very autonomy and our equality.

  • dangerfield

    Um, and the millions of americans (most of them women) whose health depends on the democrats forcing through some semblance of health care reform are less real and less breathing than the women depending on abortion funding?
    Living breathing people depend on this compromise too. Living breathing people depend on the changes that may or may not come to fruition because of the seemingly innane political battles going on inside the beltway. Acknowledging the theory isn’t ignoring how consequential those politics are, even if it feels like it. The “culture wars” themselves have ramifications for real people. Its all the same ball game, no matter what you call it.

  • SarahMC

    I didn’t say healthcare reform didn’t need passing. Frankly I wish we were getting single-payer healthcare because this plan is far too conservative. I am taking issue with the classification of women’s reproductive healthcare as a mere “culture war” issue. It’s no different from making an exception for heart procedures. Except that men don’t get abortions.

  • dangerfield

    Wishing that congress was as liberal as we are doesn’t make it so. If the votes don’t exist, they don’t exist. What is so wrong about Obama admitting that “traditionally” those votes don’t exist in congress for abortion funding. If they do exist, he will use them, if not, then no. Acknowledging that isn’t rolling over and playing dead. Failing to pass legislation with the straight flush that is a democratic house + senate + president because the best possible bill wasn’t progressive enough? That’s rolling over and playing dead.
    Obama didn’t get to choose his congress. He’s lucky he got one that is even willing to pass UHC. Chances are, even without abortion funding, it won’t pass, and we’ll have to wait another 15 years for a shot at UHC. He is treading lightly because he has to, not because he wants to.

  • A male

    “Is making sure that gov’t health insurance covers abortion worth the risk of his health insurance reform plan completely fails. Is any single procedure worth it (what if it was lung cancer treatment for smokers?)”
    Obviously choices concerning reproductive freedoms such as birth control and abortion are leading concerns for feminists.
    A more general concern of mine is that people should not go bankrupt or lose their homes to health care costs, to for example, cancer or heart disease. A prison inmate in California made the news in 2002 by getting a $1 million (including aftercare) heart transplant. According to one account,
    “We don’t have a policy per se,” said Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections. “We have a requirement, based in law and in losing many, many lawsuits, to provide medically necessary care to inmates.
    “The courts have told us that inmates have a constitutional right to health care. You and I don’t, but inmates do. … We have to do whatever is medically necessary to save an inmate’s life.”
    Yes, you read that correctly. Prison inmates have rights people on the outside do not, and if the comment section is any indication, many agree that since the man was not sentenced to death, that he was entitled to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of treatment. I’m not going to touch that one.
    People on the outside should also be recognized to “have a constitutional right to health care,” and private insurance companies should also recognize they can do more good and still stay in business.

  • Tracey T

    He didn’t say the votes don’t traditionally exist, he said traditionally the government doesn’t fund abortion. There’s a difference. Saying that plays into right wing rhetoric about how the government has a “tradition” of not funding abortion and that doing so in the future would spit on that “tradition.” The qoute about not getting bogged down in an abortion debate is fine, but the “tradition” part was completely unneccessary and it was no accident. It’s as though we are being set up to never expect gov’t funded abortion. The President is too careful with his words for that to have been a gaff. The latter part of the qoute would have done just fine on it’s own.
    Also, this isn’t rolling over and playing dead in and of itself, but Dems do have that tendency. When the MO is to run every time conflict comes up, I find it hard to trust them to ever do the right thing. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt if the issue is raised in Obama’s second term (cause probally won’t be addressing it again in his first).

  • Jen Carl

    This is why I’m a feminist first, democrat second. The dems have always been about not pissing anyone off. That’s basically their party line. “What’s the most ambiguous line we can come up with that won’t lose us votes from anyone who was already going to vote for us, but will include some who weren’t before?” The republicans would make it KNOWN that they were trying to ax abortion, that’s their base right there. But democrats need to pussyfoot around everything (in reference to the cat, not the body part.)
    I mean, I agree with above posted who say that this would kill this bill (which I’m not sure I’m 100% behind in the first place.) Most people don’t see abortion and birth control as an essential part of our health care package. (Not like, oh, say, vasectomies and Viagra…*cough*cough*)I’d even venture to say that most people who are pro-choice think it should be legal, but still cringe at the thought of abortion and probably wouldn’t be comfortable with everyone having complete coverage and no strings attached access to it. Before I got educated about what it really meant to be pro-choice and the realities of abortion, I fell into the latter category.
    Even so, I also agree with the comments that said that he could have phrased this in a way that didn’t make it sound like our reproductive rights were something so trivial that ignoring them could be written off as “tradition.” The president’s words – especially THIS president’s words mean a lot, and are heard loud and clear. The primary reason I voted for this man was because he was the most pro-choice candidate we have ever had. I would hope that even if his hands were tied politically, he could at least work to change the way us and our rights are thought and talked about.

  • loveorperish

    Uh…passing this bill is going to provide a larger umbrella of coverage for more people than getting hung up on moral deabtes about abortion (which will invariably arise from a statement from the President indicating that he would fund abortions, even though the gov’t doesn’t now). It is arguably more important to cover birth control, no? I think women should have a right to access to abortion, but I don’t think it should be covered by a federal bill unless the procedure is medically necessary to save the mother’s life or preserve her health, or the woman in question was the victim of rape.
    I’ve managed 28 years without getting knocked up, there is no excuse or reason why other women, especially those who know they don’t have adequate health care coverage, can’t take charge of their reproductive health and avoid unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Birth control is legal. Condoms are cheap and effective. Why should my tax dollars cover someone else’s abortion when I manage my own uterus AND I have my own private insurance?
    Obama wants to help the largest number of people he can, and to make health care reform happen, he needs bi-partisan support. Not the right forum to engage the Republicans on!