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Be careful what you wish for.

After months of crossing fingers for the House version of the
healthcare bill, pro-reform Democrats got what they wanted on Saturday. But not without a major concession: abortion rights.

What was supposed to be an easy victory for Speaker Nancy Pelosi ended up a hard-won battle for votes, with the final tally for
the House bill stacking up at 220-to-215 – and that’s with a Democratic 258-to-177 majority. To get there, Pelosi made a Faustian bargain, trading the abortion rights she ardently holds dear for support from House Democratic pro-lifers.

The resulting bill contains the “Stupak amendment”, introduced by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), which would ban funding abortions, except in cases of rape or incest, under the public option and under private insurance bought using federal subsidies.

In effect, it could cause private plans to drop abortion coverage altogether. Pro-choice groups are furious, not to mention suffering excruciating cognitive dissonance now that Pelosi, their poster-child, has sold them out in the eleventh hour.

First, I invite every angry feminist blogger, incensed NARAL lobbyist and promiscuous co-ed to breathe deeply and repeat the following mantra: “this will probably change in committee.”

Better?

Senior Dems say they won’t rest until they get Stupak out of the final version of the bill when the two chambers reconcile after the Senate passes theirs. Whether they will stay strong or not remains to be seen, but there’s no sense in panicking – yet.

Others have taken a slightly more bitter approach. Slate’s Wiliam Saletan argues that this is what we get for trying our hand at government-run programs: more icky regulations, less fun freedom to get wanton abortions.

[The House and Senate bills] don’t nationalize medicine or set up a single-payer system. As
socialism goes, they’re modest. But they do mandate, standardize, and
subsidize health insurance. They mix public with private. And when you
do that, you invite public-sector problems into matters that used to be nobody’s business.

First, by no stretch of the imagination is the House health plan “socialism.” Like Reductio ad Hitlerum, comparing healthcare reform to socialism seems to be everyone’s favorite way of explaining why it’s bad. Socialized medicine, to be clear, is purely government-operated health services. Saying that an optional public plan that allows people to see private doctors with private practices is “socialism” is like comparing, well, George W. Bush to Hitler.

If mixing private with public in medicine is socialism, we already have it. It’s called Medicaid and Medicare, not to mention a handful of state-based healthcare-access plans for the indigent.

Which brings us to the more important point here: The only reason that the abortion compromise is even a blip on the radar of the American consciousness right now is because the threat of losing access to abortions is no longer just the fear of those on Medicaid – it could potentially affect all of us, if the House bill passes as-is.

And making something that used to be just poor peoples’ problem into something that’s everybody’s problem is a great way to get people angry (see also: predatory lending). Fortunately, it’s also a great way to make them pay attention to what their elected officials are doing.

Saletan goes on to admonish reform supporters with a “there – happy now?”:

“You wanted a better world. You wanted health insurance for everyone,
and you wanted the government to help pay for it. Congratulations.
You’ve brought the tax moralists into your life.”

I somewhat resent Saletan’s insinuation that the decades-long push for universal healthcare is comparable to the petulant carelessness of a 4-year-old running by the pool and skinning his knee.

This healthcare battle is about policymakers and millions of Americans working feverishly to fix a cruel, outdated system that continues to devastate lives and end them prematurely. Tough political maneuvers involve compromise, and in this case Pelosi made a big one. You won’t die if you don’t get an abortion, but you will if you don’t get chemotherapy.

Unfortunately, the compromise comes with its own baggage.

After all, what happens when women take the baby that results from that unwanted, unplanned or unforeseen pregnancy home from their public-option subsidized delivery? What happens if, for example, she has five more at home she can’t afford? How many more check-ups, tooth cleanings and flu shots is that? Or welfare checks? Or public housing projects?

Abortion isn’t some pork project that can be yanked from a bill with no real repercussions. Lack of access to safe abortions can and will create serious societal, public health and grand-scale national fiscal problems.

And you thought $1 trillion sounded bad.