THE BLOG
05/22/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Abort the Executive Order

"The (Patient Protection and Affordable Care) Act maintains current Hyde Amendment restrictions governing abortion policy and extends those restrictions to the newly-created health insurance exchanges." -- Barack Obama, President of the United States March 21, 2010

This text is from the pending "Executive Order ensuring enforcement and implementation of abortion restrictions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."

In Chicago, we call it getting out-hustled. That's what the President and the Speaker did to their opponents over this weekend; they out-hustled them, in order to get the House of Representatives to pass the President's health care reform bill, the one which, by-the-by, creates (more) new barriers -- both federal and state -- to American women's access to reproductive health care.

What does out-hustled mean? Well, in Chicago politics, it means you bust your you-know-what to get what you want, which too often means damn the consequences, most especially those consequences that appear to be (only) niceties, or appear arcane, or appear to affect few, or most-of all, obscure the message of ever-so-needed victory, any victory, if-it-comes-to-that.

But, in out-hustling their opposition, the President and the Speaker forsook the women of America; for they decided, by-the-by, that it was OK to make life -- life hard enough already -- all that much harder for women of modest resources when they face, for most, the hardest decision of life, the (constitutionally-protected) decision to terminate a pregnancy.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote in these pages regarding the Speaker's specious claim that "This (the health care reform bill) is not about abortion,"

To the contrary, I said, and I was proved right (keep reading): Getting the health care bill passed was going to be "...about nothing but abortion."

Of course, the Speaker knew this, too: She'd known this at least since last November when she called the Stupak Amendment for a vote, and it passed.

In fact, the Speaker's statement to the contrary was just pure political ploy -- typically political in that, in its narrowest fact context, it was true -- the bill was, and is, about lots of aspects of health care, not just about abortion -- but, equally typically political, false regarding the politics of getting the bill passed.

And that's exactly what happened. Getting the health care bill passed was about nothing but abortion; in fact, at the end, it was about nothing but abortion-related deals; deals that, to boot, weren't just any old deals, but deals with the President, his own self, to coin another Chicago term-of-art.

Indeed, Mr. I-used-to-can't-stand-what-the-President-stands-for-if he's-for-choice Stupak, of all people, got himself a little ole Executive Order, all about abortion.

And, lo and behold, once he got it, the Speaker got Mr. Stupak's vote, and the bill passed.

Sometimes, being right doesn't bring much satisfaction with it. Girl: Is that true this time.

For "...about nothing but abortion" turns out to mean that Washington will moot this women's right with hardly a passing glance: Need an Executive Order, no problema; come on over and negotiate with my lawyers.

Need an Executive Order, no problema; let's go right ahead and negotiate an Executive Order that no Democratic, nor, for that matter, no Republican, President has ever offered up; a document that Presidentially codifies a law whose sole purpose is to deny poor, and now middle-class (for the health care reform bill subsidizes middle-class families' health insurance, too), women the same access to reproductive health care that wealthy women have.

Need an Executive Order, no problema; let's just go right ahead and codify that Hyde Amendment in an Executive Order. And, while we're at it, let's go ahead and expand the reach of Mr. Hyde's Amendment; expand it by extending its provisions to those new health care exchanges, all fifty of them; those health exchanges already a disaster for women, for what insurer in his right mind is going to want to tussle with local-pol-health care regulators regarding the right insure abortion and the right to undertake all kinds of new accounting procedures just to have the privilege of insuring a woman's abortion. Exactly none.

Need an Executive Order, no problema: We'll just blithely ignore the constitutional complications here.

But wait: This Executive Order is about a matter that only affects, maybe, a couple-million-max, American women annually. What's the big deal? Won't we be able to fix whatever all might be wrong with it later?

I say no, for both policy and political reasons.

Here's my take on one important policy reason: American history has shown over, and over, and over again that policies sacrificing, or mooting, constitutional rights, for the supposed "greater good," are never sacrifices that protect the rights of women, minorities, the poor, or anyone else who doesn't have the ability to buy her way into the offices of D.C. power brokers, and change powerbrokers' minds.

What's next? Sacrificing the notion that creationism is poppycock in order to get the votes of conservative Texas Democrats for education reform? Sacrificing Miranda rights in the name of security when anyone with a plastic knife and training in martial arts can cause chaos on any airplane?

As to the political reasons, let's start here, with this morning's message from one leader of a big D.C. women's group. Here's what she sent along:

"And once that work (Senate passage of the health care reform bill) is done, you and I will insist that Congress take the necessary steps to reverse the appalling anti-choice provisions contained in health reform and render the President's Executive Order null and void."

I could scream with frustration. But that's not the point. Here is the point. Actually, there are two (points).

Politics Rule One: In the words of Frederick Douglass, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

You can insist forever; you can insist till the cows come home; meanwhile, the cows, and all the horses, besides, are out of the barn. You can, and losers do, "insist," while those horses run to another barn, a barn whose doors are dead-bolt locked when you try to enter.

Not a plan, that " insisting" thing.

By contrast, as Douglass pointed-out, "demanding" is a plan; demanding without standing down till you get what you want is a really, really good plan, when the chips are down, as they are today.

So, here's a corollary to Politics Rule One: Don't get out-hustled, if your goal is winning.

Why, exactly, did the Speaker insist, "This isn't about abortion."

Why? Because she knew that when D-Day (decision day) came, she would do whatever she needed to do, to make the bill's passage appear to have nothing to do with abortion, or, if about abortion in some way, only in a way that appeared innocuous, e.g., as it then happened, accompanied by an Executive Order that met this threshold, (supposedly).

To this supposed point, catch these words of Dan Pfeiffer, White House Communications Director: "The President has said from the start that this health insurance reform should not be the forum to upset longstanding precedent. The health care legislation and this executive order are consistent with this principle.

The pro-choice Members obliged the Speaker. Oh, the bill doesn't include "Stupak;" oh, OK, we'll vote for that.

How 'bout that walk over to the White House I recommended several months ago and have kept recommending, that walk over to the White House Bart Stupak took so successfully yesterday?

At no time in the course of the Speaker's march to "wreckonciliation" for poor American women did her women Members stand up, and do like Stupak did: March anywhere, and demand a deal on their terms, the terms their female constituents and millions of other American women need so desperately.

Instead, they obliged, and then, blithely, declared victory: We fought back Stupak, as though the Stupak Amendment language would be, or could be, the only language used to sacrifice the rights of American women. Well, the President, Speaker, and Mr. Stupak sure proved you wrong on that one.

"Out-hustled" means you think faster; do harder; stand on that proverbial street corner 24-7, and do what you need to do every minute of everyday. You don't take people's words at face value--you negotiate your own terms and your own words.

This is what real "players" do, to use a related Chicago term. They do what Bart Stupak did. They demand to be heard by those in power, in their presence, offer up nothing till they are (heard, in that room), and then get their deal in writing.

Didn't happen; power conceded nothing 'cause this wasn't done, and we women are the worse for it.

But wait, there's one more chance.

I say: Abort the Executive Order.

I say to all you Democratic women Senators, who now have the fate of American women and the health care bill in your hands: Walk over to the White House, and say you're not having it, you're not having that Executive Order, and you're not voting for any bill whose passage required it. You're not into wreckonciliation.

"When faced with crisis, we did not shrink from our challenge -- we overcame it. We did not avoid our responsibility -- we embraced it. We did not fear our future -- we shaped it."

These are the President's beautiful words of last night.

Well, Mr. President: Sadly, you did shrink from your most important challenge--to create equality for all Americans, including all women.

Mr. President: On this point, I call your attention to the words of another great American orator; again, I quote Frederick Douglas:

"Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe."

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