David Coates

Chapter 8: May 2010 Update

As ever, a mixed bag of progress and defeat on the issues traditionally grouped together as the Right’s social agenda

  • The last minute wheeling and dealing on health care reform cost women heavily. Women were beneficiaries of moves to block elimination because of pre-existing conditions, restrictions on gender rating, improved access to Medicaid and SCHIP, and increased access to obstetrics and midwifery care. Poor women denied access to any health care now stand able to receive it; but will find it even more difficult than before to obtain coverage for legal abortions, or medical facilities willing to deliver it. Any one enrolling in a plan that includes abortion coverage will not have to write two checks, not one; and the state exchanges will no longer be obliged (as they were in the original House bill) to include a plan that covers abortion. Age and gender rating also continue to be legal under the act, in both cases adding to the costs of health care for women.
  • In April, the President signed an executive order giving same-sex partners the same rights as straight couples to visit and make medical decisions on behalf of their hospitalized partner. Popular support for such a move is high – normally running at 80% – and the voice of its major critic – the Roman Catholic Church – is currently mooted by its own internal and massive child abuse scandal. (In parallel moves, the leadership of Focus on the Family quietly shifted in February from the strident and anti-Obama James Dobson to the more conciliatory Jim Daly. Focus on the Family reaches 1.5 million people daily in the US through its radio broadcasts, and more than 200 million worldwide.)
  • The campaign to end “don’t ask, don’t tell’ continued within the Congress, now with support from the administration and senior generals: the conversation now being about how and when to end the policy, not whether or not to do so. On March 25, 2010, Defense Secretary Gates announced charges to make it harder for the military to investigate troops who were ‘outed’ against their will by third-parties. The progress is slow, but it is progress.
  • The new health care act’s requirement that states created health care exchanges means that the abortion debate will now be rekindled at the state level. Many states have well-organized anti-abortion lobbies. Already, a new law passed in Oklahoma – a state with only three licensed abortion providers – will allow doctors not to pass on to the mother information about possible birth defects in the fetus (http://www.alternet.org/story/146662) . A law passed in Nevada in April banned most abortions after 20 weeks. Both laws will no doubt be challenged in the courts; but we can expect abortion restrictions to be a big issue in the November mid-term elections (and in the prior Republican Party primaries). (For details, see Anna Mathews, ‘States Reignite Abortion Debate”, The Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2010)
  • The teenage pregnancy rate among girls 15-19 increased by 3% in 2006 – the first increase in a decade – reinforcing the wisdom of the Obama administration’s redirection of federal sex-education from the Bush policy of abstinence only education. (In 2009 the administration cut $170 million from abstinence programs it believed ineffective, and in 2010 proposed expanding to $183 million funding for programs with proven results.) Controversy in February turned on a landmark study of abstinence programs, federally funded, which found – for the first time – that a certain kind of abstinence education could be effective. Advocates of abstinence only education claimed the results supported their long-held beliefs; the author of the study argued only that his findings suggested that abstinence education could be a valuable additional tool in the fight against teenage pregnancy and STDs. (For the details, see The Washington Post, February 2, 2010)

David Coates holds the Worrell Chair in Anglo-American Studies at Wake Forest University. He is the author of Answering Back: Liberal Responses to Conservative Arguments, New York: Continuum Books, 2010.

He writes here in a personal capacity.

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