BY JESSICA CORSI
While the Senate gears up to vote on the historic Health Care Reform Act, students at Harvard and across the country have organized to protest the Stupak amendment, a last minute addition to the act that will expand and entrench barriers to accessing abortion. Their group, Students Stop Stupak, formed at a meeting at Harvard on Friday, November 13, 2009 and has been growing in size and strength ever since. Only a few days after forming, on Wednesday, November 18, in tandem with students across the country and other protestors in Washington, D.C., they staged their first rally in Harvard Square. They aimed to raise awareness about how the amendment will prevent women and girls from accessing abortions and to encourage people to call their Senators and request Senate opposition to the amendment.
Holding signs that read “Health Care for all Communities” and “Abortion is Health Care,” an enthusiastic and vocal crowd gathered in the pit at the Harvard Square T stop to chant and pass out flyers informing passersby what the Stupak amendment says, how it obstructs access to abortion, and how people can get in contact with their Senators to ask them to vote against the amendment.
One of the goals of the student movement is to correct misperceptions about the Stupak amendment that are currently floating around in the media. Contrary to popular reportage and statements from Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI), who introduced the amendment, the student movement emphasizes the substantial change that passage of the Stupak amendment would bring about. While its proponents claim that it upholds current law, namely the Hyde amendment, Students Stop Stupak is spreading the word that the amendment will institutionalize new and significant barriers to accessing abortion.
Currently, around 87% of private insurance plans provide abortion coverage. In advance of the Stupak amendment, the House had come to a compromise in the form of the Capp Amendment, which would provide two insurance options at every insurance price point—one that covers abortion and one that does not. This would allow those that personally opposed and did not want to pay for abortion coverage to opt out, and those that wished to access abortion coverage to retain it. At the last minute and in contrast to this compromise, the Stupak amendment was introduced, banning all insurance policies traded on the proposed federal insurance exchange from providing any form of abortion coverage. Because an estimates 80% of Americans will use insurance plans that fall under the federal exchange, the Stupak amendment will virtually nullify abortion coverage. While Representative Stupak states that supplemental insurance policies will be available to cover abortion if women wish to purchase them separately, Students Stop Stupak is highlighting that hardly any insurance company currently offers this option, and that they will not have any incentive to offer it if the Stupak amendment passes.
Together with those protesting the amendment across the county, the student movement is also hoping to get the message out that health care must include access to abortion. Those supporting the Stupak amendment have said that it is more important to pass the health care act now and to work out the details later. The student movement is rallying around the cry that abortion access is integral to the access of health care as a whole. The movement has taken shape at a critical juncture, given that the Senate has yet to vote on the amendment and that members of the House are organizing to block its passage if the Senate does approve it. Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) has sent a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), already signed by 40 House members, declaring that they will not sign the final bill if the Stupak language remains in it.
Students Stop Stupak is hoping to expand its work beyond Harvard to encompass the broader Boston student community. Its membership currently includes students from Harvard Law School, the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard Medical School, and students from the undergraduate community. Student groups involved include HLS Law Students for Reproductive Justice, a chapter of the national organization by the same name, and Harvard Students for Choice at the College.
The group is planning additional actions, including a December 2nd protest to be held in conjunction with a larger protest in Washington, DC. Their fast growing and enthusiastic start has gained them media attention: stories about them have popped up on the Huffington Post and around the blogosphere, and their first rally was covered by Fox News, CBS News, Boston’s Metro newspaper, and other local media outlets. National groups like the National Organization for Women’s student wing and Law Students for Reproductive Choice are conducting similar organizing and media campaigns.