Globe Editorial

Coakley ends up in right place

(Globe Staff Photo/ Bill Greene)
December 22, 2009

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MARTHA COAKLEY’S position on health care legislation and abortion rights has not been a model of consistency. First, the candidate for US Senate vowed to oppose any bill that set back abortion rights. Then, on Sunday, she made the logical and responsible decision to support the Senate health care bill, even though its restrictions on use of federal funds for abortions are almost as burdensome as the House’s. Like many supporters of abortion rights, she is pained by the Senate bill’s restrictions, and vows to overturn them, but not at the cost of near-universal health coverage for all Americans.

She should be commended for making this commitment now, rather than either refusing to support the bill or keeping everyone guessing until the Jan. 19 election.

Of course, she could have made her willingness to accept such a bill clearer during the Democratic primary campaign. Back then, she insisted she would never sacrifice women’s rights for a health care overhaul. That line in the sand gave her a significant political boost. It not only bonded her with anxious pro-choice voters but sharply refuted the prevailing notion that she lacked passion and an agenda.

Nonetheless, her change of heart is welcome. Despite its limits on funding abortions, the bill advances women’s rights in important ways. It insures millions of women, guarantees that they can’t be charged more than men, and requires that their pregnancies and mammograms be covered.

Coakley did the right thing in the end. And it should be noted that many other politicians were similarly vexed by the need to advocate forcefully that certain provisions be included in the bill, without acknowledging that they would, in fact, end up supporting it even if it wasn’t fully to their liking. This is a variant of the “voted for it before I voted against it’’ conundrum that often renders senators unable to fully explain their positions. It’s not entirely a compliment to say that Coakley is sounding more senatorial every day.