Abortion-rights groups and other progressive lobbies are organizing a post-Thanksgiving assault on Capitol Hill to press lawmakers to keep restrictive language on abortion out of the final health care package.
The coalition has scheduled a “National Day of Action— on Dec. 2 that will include a rally at the Capitol as well as visits by activists from around the country to lawmakers’ offices.
The event comes as abortion-rights groups seek to regroup and energize their members after being blindsided by the House decision to add anti-abortion language to its health care bill. They are now figuring out how they can keep similar language out of the Senate bill.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to unveil his health care plan as early as today. A number of moderate Democrats have warned that it would be difficult to pass a bill out of that chamber unless it contains similar language on abortion to what was adapted by the House.
Last week, representatives from at least 20 progressive groups met at the Planned Parenthood offices to map out strategy, which includes the Capitol event.
Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said abortion-rights advocates decided they needed to have a visible show of support for abortion rights rather than just rely on quiet lobbying.
“Behind the scenes got us health care for half the population and anti-abortion law for the rest of us,— she said. “We’re not out there enough. We have to demonstrate this is huge. I have been getting calls from people who are just beside themselves.—
She said that coalition officials were scrambling to put the event together, including organizing caravans to take people to Washington, D.C., from around the country.
Tait Sye, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood, said many of the details of the Capitol event have yet to be worked out, including what speakers may be invited.
The coalition includes abortion-rights groups and other liberal organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign, MoveOn.org, the Service Employees International Union, Catholics for Choice, the National Council of Jewish Women and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Even before the December event, a number of abortion-rights groups have been ratcheting up the pressure on lawmakers.
The Center for Reproductive Rights is launching television ads today that call on voters who favor abortion rights to contact Senators.
The spots will be running on cable television in the D.C. market and on a number of Internet sites.
Nancy Northrup, president of the center, said that abortion-rights activists were surprised by the House action and have since sought to galvanize their membership.
“It has been a game changer,— she said of the House vote.
Northrup said the visits to her organization’s Web site quintupled after the House action. She said the group also embarked on a round of fundraising last week. She said it was too early to tell how much money has been raised because of the issue.
NARAL Pro-Choice America also issued a call for money on its Web site to finance the lobbying effort in Washington.
“Your secure online donation today will be put to work immediately to help urge the Senate to pass health care reform without denying services to millions of women whose private plans already cover reproductive-health care, in addition to supporting all our work on behalf of women’s reproductive health,— the message stated.
NARAL would not disclose how much money it has raised since the plea went out. But the group’s spokesman, Ted Miller, called the member response “incredible on all levels.—
On Monday, NARAL President Nancy Keenan delivered a petition to Reid asking him to resist pressure to include House anti-abortion language sponsored by Reps. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Joe Pitts(R-Pa.).
NARAL worked with People for the American Way to collect 97,218 signatures on the petition.
The Stupak-Pitts provision bars the use of federal funds to pay for an abortion or cover any part of the costs of any plan that includes coverage of abortion, unless pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or the life of the mother is endangered. The House stripped a compromise that would have allowed private plans that receive public subsidies to offer elective abortions if they paid for the procedure only with private funds.
Abortion-rights proponents face formidable opponents including the Roman Catholic Church and socially conservative groups that have also rallied their activists.
But women’s groups clearly hope they can put enough political pressure on Democrats and President Barack Obama, whose 2008 victory relied on strong female support. Exit polls showed Obama received 56 percent of women’s votes in his race against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Ellen Malcolm, president of EMILY’s List, which supports female Democratic candidates who favor abortion rights, said that “a lot of women are pretty upset and energized— by the recent events.
She said there would be a “firestorm— if Congress approved health care reform with the restrictions. However, Malcolm predicted that such language would not survive in the final version of health care reform legislation.
As the Senate prepares to take up health care reform, other groups are also working feverishly to get their message across. Conservative coalition High Noon for Health Care was urging its members to flood Senate offices with e-mails and calls on Wednesday to tell them to oppose bringing up the health care legislation at all. Reid will need 60 votes to commence debate on the measure.
The coalition, which includes Let Freedom Ring, Citizens Against Government Waste, the American Conservative Union and Americans for Tax Reform, said it wants to defeat the Senate health care bills.
“News reports indicate that Senate Democrats are following former President Bill Clinton’s advice by rushing through a bill that Americans don’t support and haven’t even read,— said Colin Hanna, president of Let Freedom Ring, a conservative group that ran ads accusing Obama of being a flip-flopper during the 2008 campaign.
Meanwhile, Health Care for America Now, a liberal coalition, took a shot at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over a report that the business group was soliciting funds to hire an economist to produce a negative analysis of the health care plan.
In a release, HCAN National Campaign Manager Richard Kirsch said he would be happy to offer the chamber the phone numbers of 320 economists who sent a letter to Obama and Congress in June urging them to reform health care.
“Since the Chamber has put out a help wanted ad, we thought we could be of some assistance,— Kirsch said.