After This We Can Talk Welfare Reform

There are lots of things I don’t understand about this world, many of which are the number of intelligent, awesome, analytical feminists who support the Democrats. From Katha Pollit:

So now you know. It really does matter who’s President and which party controls Congress. A Democratic-controlled Congress would never have passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Act, which banned intact dilation and extraction abortions and, in flagrant violation of Roe v. Wade, lacked an exception to preserve the health of the woman. A Democratic President would never have signed such a bill. Nor would he have nominated the extremely conservative antichoicers John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, which on April 18 upheld, in Gonzales v. Carhart by a 5-to-4 vote (Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas–all GOP nominees), a ban essentially identical to one rejected 5 to 4 in Stenberg v. Carhart seven years ago, when Sandra Day O’Connor was on the bench.

A Democratic president may have never signed this particular bill, but that doesn’t make them staunch upholders of abortion rights. Poor women’s right to abortion were extinguished with the 1976 Hyde Amendment. The Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate, when the Hyde Amendment was passed. Then Democratic Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter indicated that he would support the amendment, and this support was one of the reasons Ford backed-down on his threat to veto the legislation. In 1980 the supreme court ruled on the constitutionality of the Hyde Amendment; at this time there were two justices who had been appointed by Democratic presidents. If both of those justices had supported poor women’s rights to abortion then the Hyde Amendment would have been ruled unconstitutional, but they did not.

I am not meaning to downplay the seriousness of the latest decision when I say that the effect it will have on women’s lives is extremely limited, when compared to the effect of the Hyde Amendment. The most serious attack on American women’s right to an abortion was a bipartisan effort, and the Democrats more than played their part.

Updated Since writing this post I have learned that the Hyde Amendment (which needs to be authorised every year, so has been supported by every democratic controlled house and senate, and every democratic president since 1977) was debated in 1994. At this stage the democratic controlled house and senate upheld the ban. They added rape and incest exceptions (the original amendment already had a life of the mother clause), but did not add a health of the mother exception. The Democrats support of the Hyde Amendment is not history.

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15 Responses to After This We Can Talk Welfare Reform

  1. 1
    Amanda Marcotte says:

    Maia the Hyde Amendment is ahistorical. Neither party had a firm grip on reproductive rights in the 1970s. In fact, back then Republicans were often more, not less, likely to support family planning than Democrats. It wasn’t until after evangelicals turned on Jimmy Carter and flocked to Ronald Reagan that the Republicans became the anti-choice party and the Democrats the pro-choice party.

    Adhering to the leftist mythology that Republicans and Democrats are identical really doesn’t make sense with abortion rights. While I wish that Democrats were more aggressively pro-choice, the fact of the matter is that they are absolutely better than the Republicans on this issue.

    If you care about poor women, then it doesn’t begin and end with the Hyde Amendment, either. One area of great contention is family planning programs overseas. Democrats reject the global gag rule and Republicans uphold it. The difference in these two stances is immense. Republican defunding of UNFPA alone has caused from 4,700 to 27,000 extra maternal deaths and 77,000 to 374,000 extra infant deaths a year that would not be happening if there were Democrats in control. We can’t afford to play around and tell feminists to assist Republican victories when the death toll is so great.

  2. 2
    Amanda Marcotte says:

    Heh, does clicking this box to assure people you’re a feminist work? I bet it does. Totally off-topic, but maybe you could use the term “pro-feminist” so that men who are feminist but uneasy stealing the word from women can post?

  3. 3
    Mike3550 says:

    Maia, I think that this is one of the most well stated arguments for opposition to mainstream politics and our two political parties that I have seen or heard (and I have come across a lot of them given the fact that I have been fairly active in leftist politics — small p — for several years). Although I agree with Amanda that the parties were very different in the 1970s than they are today (see Richard Nixon’s department of Health, Education and Welfare), the fact that Harry Reid is trying to have it both ways is a stark indication of the problems with party politics.

    That being said, I think that it would be foolish to ignore the fact that we live in a political system with two parties and the unfortunate fact is that they make the laws. But, being involved does not have to mean selling out — and I find this to particularly be the case when I have met politicians at a local level. It is much more difficult to look someone straight in the eye and lie to them (even though it happens), and at a state level, it is much more possible to get that kind of contact. And, the other nice thing is that state-level politics can be less difficult to change or mount successful primary challenges to push the Democrats to the left. This is the argument that Thomas Frank makes in What’s the Matter with Kansas that I tend to agree with — it is not the national level politics that matters as much as the local politics and this is how the anti-choice crazies came to power in the first place. You “build your bench” and push the party on a local level where you can talk to the people voting in the election, voting in the legislature and city councils that make these things possible.

    If enough of these people draw their base from the progressive community, particularly the choice, (progressive) labor, affordable healthcare, minority, and poverty-advocacy communities that often receive attention from the Democratic party exactly once every four years, the more likely it is that we see real change in our politics in this country.

    BTW, I like Amanda’s suggestion about using “pro-feminist” as well…

  4. 4
    Jamila Akil says:

    I’m pro-choice but I don’t believe that the public should be forced to fund abortions, although some states do. So what does that leave me with? : The Democrats who tend to be pro-choice and want public funding of abortion or the Republicans who tend to be anti-choice and want abortion made illegal. I’m not satisfied with either choice.

    Welfare as we know it is a complete mess, but I haven’t heard any of the candidates talk address the topic so I figure it must not be ranking high on any opinion polls.

  5. 5
    curiousgyrl says:

    Abortion availability decreased under Clinton. Neither party is interested in protecting our rights, but one party is perfectly willing to got directly after them. Women supporting Democrats hasnt and wont protect our rights, much less win back the ones we’ve lost. That will take a different kind of politics, one that takes more effort than 5 mintues in the voting booth.

  6. 6
    Marisacat says:

    I think this thread needs a dose of reality. A commenter linked to this posting of maia’s at my site, Marisacat.

    One comment in particular takes on the “ahistorical” claim in the first comment:

    she [Amanda Marcotte] speaks of the hyde amendment as if it occured in some long-distant past. its a FUCKING BUDGET AMENDMENT. and budgets expire. and then the new budget needs a fresh hyde amendment and of course its added, and approved again, year after year.

    The Hyde Amendment is reauthorized each year under appropriations bills for the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services.

    “reauthorized yearly” is as current as can be. certainly not “ahistorical”, or even something from america’s misty past.

    the democratic party bears a rather large measure of responsibility for the hyde amendment’s passage and the diarist is absolutely correct. the fact remains that members of both parties have participated in the assault on women’s rights.

    democrats don’t get a pass just because they would like one.

    Further, it needs to be mentioned that AM has pushed, via Pandagon, the Democrats for Life 95/10 policy. In fact she pushed it twice (that I am aware of, perhaps more), 10/2/06 and again the following day, 10/3. It is NOT some mild contraception availability bill, it is neither benign nor beneficial for women. Nothing that is pushed by the DFL is beneficial to women.

    here is another comment from Marisacat that relates to this post and this thread, the commenter is an abortion care provider in TX:

    In states that ban state funding for abortion, how often does Medicaid pay for abortions performed even when Hyde Amendment exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the woman apply?


    We had a patient with highly aggressive breast cancer whose oncologist sent a letter saying that her eight-week pregnancy was a direct and imediate threat to her life, and who included 21 pages of medical records to sustantiate that certification.

    Forget about it. Several NNAF funds contributed toward the cost of her abortion, and we wrote off the rest.

    No enforcement and no accountability. There were about 77,000 abortion procedures performed in Texas in 2003.

    And according to my Austin source, Medicaid covered eight of them.

    Think “ahistorical” and all that soft apologia for the Dems just died a hard death. Henry Hyde is laughing, he loves it that Dems push his hideous policies.

    Sorry for the length of the comment but a lot of us are sick to death of women being sold out to serve the Democratic party’s election needs.

  7. 7
    sylphhead says:

    “I’m pro-choice but I don’t believe that the public should be forced to fund abortions”

    I don’t want to pick a fight or anything, but is this the same standard you would use for any other medical procedure, Jamila? I just want to make sure we’re not swallowing the whole conservative moral tragedy of decadent young women who get abortion on convenience and pop RU 486 like pep pills.

  8. 8
    Maia says:

    Just for the record the reason I made this a feminist only post, is because I didn’t want to make this an argument about whether or not the state should pay for abortion. There are other threads on my blog or on this blog where you can have that argument.

    Thanks for the links Marisacat – I was pretty sure that the amendment needed to be reauthorised. So Clinton, as well as Jimmy Carter, have signed this amendment, and every Democrat controlled house and senate have voted for it.

    curiousgyrl – do you have any more information about abortion access and Clinton (I’m not particularly surprised)?

    For the record, I wasn’t arguing that the Democrats and Republicans were the same, just that even on issues which were supposed to divide them, there are huge similarities. Although Amanda you can rest assured that I wasn’t telling feminist to support Republicans.

    I didn’t even say don’t vote for the democrats. All I ask is that when feminist praise the differences between Democrats and Republicans, they also point out the similarities. I believe that the ban on ‘partial birth abortion’ is awful, but a much, much much smaller infringement on abortion rights than the Hyde Amendment, which gets reauthorised each year.

  9. Pingback: Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Which side is the federal government on?

  10. 9
    Marisacat says:


    thanks for your succinct take on the Hyde Amendment.. truly a horror.

    BUT I don’t think it is fair to compare the Hyde Amandement as this that or the other by placing it beside the horror of the SC ruling.

    Both are bad and neither will be fought by the so called “opposition party”.

    If you read (and I posted at my site in the wake of the ruling) the bill itself has the seeds to over turn Roe, we now criminalise doctors (and surely open the door to criminalise women, as was also true in the SD bill of last year) as well it can be used to ban abortion, it is possible to build off this ruling, leaving only very early vacuum abortion as permissible… and we know the pro lifers will not allow that to stand unchallenged… Let’s all remember, while Amanda pushes 95/10, that the pro lifers want to ban birth control.

    Further, this, the SC ruling, removes “health of the mother” AND it now allows for “morality” to be used as a determination in the legal fight against Roe. Let’s be blunt, the anti women groups can now use morality against women.

    Wording in the SC ruling is moving toward establishing “personhood” for the fetus, the mother is now charged with nurturing a life that has been elevated BEYOND HER OWN.

    These should not be dismissed nor should Nyde Amendment be used as a comparison issue.

    Both are bad and both have and will kill women.

  11. Pingback: It goes without saying... « Marisacat

  12. 10
    moonstone says:

    “Totally off-topic, but maybe you could use the term “pro-feminist” so that men who are feminist but uneasy stealing the word from women can post?”

    Why would they be uneasy to use the word? I’ve never heard of that.

    The men I know who are “uneasy” about calling themselves “feminists” aren’t really feminists.

  13. 11
    Raya says:

    Hey Maia, word on the street is that you’re actually from NZ — so am I (but living in NY these days, where, thank God, the governor has recently outlined a proposal that would put NY’s abortion laws (legal on demand thru the 24th week) out of reach of future Congressional tampering (though sadly, the “Partial Birth Abortion Act” will remain the law of the land until, I guess, we can get it struck down somehow).

    Anyway, it’s off topic, but I mostly stopped by here to say that my mother was very active in the drive to repeal NZ’s anti-abortion legislation in the ’70s , and used to tote me and my kid brother around Wellington with her as she picketed/leafleted/handed out badges/etc. I think I was about six at the time, and I remember proudly wearing a big “Repeal!” button, not that I fully understood what it meant despite my mother’s detailed explanations. People would march up to her and say “How can you be advocating that evil abortion when you have two beautiful children, you unnatural hag?!?” (or words to that effect), and she always said, with a sweet smile, “It’s BECAUSE I have two such beautiful children that I believe every woman must be allowed to decide for herself when the time is right for her to have a baby.” I don’t think she changed many minds, but I’m proud of her, and of having been a part of that fight even though I was too little to get it at the time.

  14. 12
    Jamila Akil says:

    sylphhead Writes:

    May 1st, 2007 at 12:59 am

    “I’m pro-choice but I don’t believe that the public should be forced to fund abortions”

    I don’t want to pick a fight or anything, but is this the same standard you would use for any other medical procedure, Jamila? I just want to make sure we’re not swallowing the whole conservative moral tragedy of decadent young women who get abortion on convenience and pop RU 486 like pep pills.

    I don’t care what a woman’s reason for getting an abortion is, whether her backstory is one of decadence or not is her concern, not mine.

    I take the same stance about public payment for abortion as I would take for any other medical procedure. For the most part, I oppose Medicare and Medicaid but that is a subject for a whole nother thread. ( You could simply say that I oppose single-payer national health insurance.)

    Since Maia has said she didn’t want this thread to get into the issue of public payment for abortion, I’ll respect that and not bring the issue up again in this thread, or the topic of a national health care plan.