MARTHA COAKLEY should indeed be angry over the provision in the House-approved health-reform bill that denies abortion coverage to the 36 million people who would receive subsidized insurance. But her position that she would have voted against the bill - thereby possibly denying any coverage to those 36 million people - is self-defeating.
Coakley, the attorney general running to fill the remainder of Senator Edward Kennedy’s seat, showed uncharacteristic passion over the issue. During the Senate campaign, in which she’s the presumed front-runner, she’s been flat and cautious to the point of inciting boredom. So her emphatic declaration in a radio interview yesterday morning that she would have opposed the House bill over abortion coverage offered a welcome point of distinction.
And voters, who have little patience for the sausage-making of the legislative process, may well credit her bold stance over the objections of her rival, Representative Michael Capuano, who supported the bill despite his opposition to the so-called Stupak amendment. Named for the moderate Democratic Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan, it would force anyone who receives subsidized coverage to pay for abortion coverage separately.
The amendment is unfair. Those 36 million people are precisely the ones who can least afford to pay for an abortion. Expecting this group - which currently lacks any health insurance - to pay for separate abortion coverage is ridiculous. The amendment effectively denies them access to abortions, which are still a constitutionally protected right.
Nonetheless, the House bill passed with only a few votes to spare, and health care reform is likely to face a tougher road in the Senate. Hopefully, the issue will be moot by the time the new Massachusetts senator takes office in January. But maybe not. And despite her reasonable fears about the Stupak amendment, Coakley should bear in mind that if faced with a choice between granting health insurance to 36 million people without abortion coverage, or leaving them with no coverage at all, it is simply inconceivable that Ted Kennedy’s successor would deny health care to millions.