It was a tight vote -- 219 in favor, 212 opposed -- and not a single Republican crossed the aisle to join the Democratic majority. But late last night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the health care reform bill after months of compromises, threats, debates and negotiations.
So what does this mean for reproductive choice?
Throughout much of the process, abortion was a red flag that some foes of the bill waved to justify their opposing votes. Representative Bart Stupak (D-Michigan) became a household word when he proposed an amendment intended to tighten restrictions on abortion under health care reform. His Stupak Amendment threatened to derail reform as he gathered together a group of anti-abortion Democrats whose votes were key to passage.
Stupak's influence on the proceedings can be measured by the actions of a president who declared himself pro-choice during his campaign. On Sunday, Barack Obama issued an executive order that affirmed the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds from being spent on abortion.
Does this matter? Will health care reform sweep away any existing rights of choice and access that women currently enjoy under most health care plans? Not according to Slate, which sees the executive order as President Obama's way of securing the yes votes of Stupak's anti-choice Democratic voting bloc by helping Stupak save face.
In reality, that executive order was more a symbolic move than an actual concession; the bill's supporters have insisted all along that it does nothing to change the current federal policy, known as the Hyde Amendment, which has been in effect since 1976.
And the Hyde Amendment is not set in stone; it must be passed every year as it has been over the decades.
Though she will never say it, this must please House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who is a pro-choice Catholic; earlier she was accused of making a deal to secure votes which opened the door for Stupak to propose his amendment.
Although passage of the health care reform bill is a victory for the Obama administration, it's an even bigger coup for Pelosi, who "emerges as a powerhouse in D.C." according to Princeton professor of history and public affairs Julian E. Zelizer. Writing for CNN, he observes:
She has pursued a clear ideological agenda but through pragmatic political tactics. Like the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, she stands for something, yet knows how to round up votes.
Since the 2008 election, Pelosi has been the most reliable leader Democrats have had. She has delivered on almost all of the legislation that the White House sent to Congress, even as her colleagues found themselves frustrated by a Senate that seemed incapable of governance....
When Kennedy died, many Democrats wondered who would take his place as the party's deal-maker. Now they have their answer.
- What is the Hyde Amendment?
- Text of the 2009 Hyde Amendment
- How the Hyde Amendment Hurts Poor Women
- Health Care Reform Bill - What Women Stand to Gain and Lose