Pro-life Democrats, R.I.P.
Bart Stupak’s vote for the health bill shows that in the end you can’t count on prolife Democrats.
By WILLIAM MCGURN
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
MARCH 23, 2910
And then there were none.
When Bart Stupak announced Sunday he was now a “yes” on the health-care bill, six Democrats stood with him. Even that handful would have been enough to defeat the bill. Instead, they accepted the fig leaf of an executive order—and threw away all the hard-won gains they had made.
Amid the recriminations it’s easy to overlook what Mr. Stupak had cobbled together. His amendment restricting federal funding for abortions, passed in November, marked the only bipartisan vote in this whole health-care mess. For the first time since Roe v. Wade, pro-life Democrats had seized the legislative initiative in the teeth of their leadership’s opposition—and brought the party of abortion to heel.
Now Mr. Stupak has thrown it away. By caving at the last hour, he discredited all who stood with him. (What does it say about Ohio’s Marcy Kaptur and Pennsylvania’s Chris Carney that they had already agreed to vote yes even before the fig leaf of the executive order had come through?) In addition to undermining an encouraging partnership with pro-lifers across the congressional aisle, Mr. Stupak signaled that, in the end, you can’t count on pro-life Democrats.
“The peer pressure to be part of the team can be overwhelming,” says Chris Smith, a pro-life GOP congressman from New Jersey. “But sometimes it’s absolutely necessary, regardless of the cost, to bend into the wind, unmovable, committed to what your heart, mind and conscience know to be right.”
“For so long, Bart did that. Then he was like a runner who stopped a hundred feet before the finish line. It’s a sad day for the unborn, a sad day for their mothers, and a serious setback for the culture of life.”
Kristen Day of Democrats for Life doesn’t see it that way. Her official statement “applauds” the executive order. In a phone conversation, she tells me that “at this point in time, the pro-life voice in the Democratic Party is the strongest I’ve ever seen it.” She goes on to suggest that now is a “pivotal moment”—because if the pro-life movement punishes Mr. Stupak and Co. at the polls, the “pro-life voice in the Democratic Party will be diluted.”
She’s right about that last bit: If the Stupak crew goes down, they will probably be replaced by pro-life Republicans or pro-choice Democrats. Either way, it means fewer pro-life Democrats. On the other hand, many who cheered Mr. Stupak will say the “pivotal moment” came Sunday—and he chose liberalism over life.
Even more troubling for Ms. Day is that few accept the idea that the executive order really adds anything. In fact, on this point National Right to Life, the Catholic bishops and the Susan B. Anthony List are largely on the same page as Planned Parenthood. As are the pro-life Republican leader Mr. Smith and the pro-choice Democrat Diana DeGette of Colorado.
Planned Parenthood calls it a “symbolic gesture,” and says “it is critically important to note that it does not include the Stupak abortion ban.” Rep. DeGette, who screamed so loudly when the Stupak amendment passed, said she had no problem with the executive order because “it doesn’t change anything.” She’s right, because an executive order cannot change the law.
Take the $7 billion in new federal funding for the community health centers. As my former White House colleague Yuval Levin points out, all that has to happen for these federal dollars to start flowing for abortion is for NARAL Pro-Choice America to sponsor a woman demanding an abortion. The center will initially deny funding, citing the executive order. The woman will then sue, arguing that abortion is a part of health care. Given the legal precedents, and the lack a specific ban in the actual legislation, the courts will likely agree.
That is part of what makes the consequences of Mr. Stupak’s surrender so far reaching. Not only has he opened the door to this kind of mischief, he has encouraged those who want to get rid of the Hyde amendment itself, which for decades has prevented federal funds from paying for abortions. Because his leadership and collapse were both so high-profile, moreover, he left fellow pro-lifer Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski (who stood firm) out in the cold, and made nearly invisible the pro-life House Democrats such as Mississippi Rep. Gene Taylor who voted for the Stupak amendment and against the bill both times.
In signing on to this sham order, the Stupak people signed their death warrant as a force within their party. In an America where a majority now describe themselves as pro-life, they have put legislative accommodations on abortion further out of reach. At least in the near future, they have ensured the Democrats will become even more uniformly pro-choice, and our national debate more polarized.
And that’s a tragedy for our politics as well as for our principles.
HERE IS AN UPDATE ON STUPAK FROM THE PEN OF JAMES TARANTO WRITING TODAY, 08 APRIL 10, IN THE BEST OF THE WEB TODAY IN THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE:
An Abortive Career
“The Tea Party Express rolled into the western Upper Peninsula on Thursday night, calling on voters to give U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak a forced retirement in November,” reports the Detroit Free Press. Politico reports that Stupak decided today not to give voters the satisfaction:
“Now with health care done, he’s retiring,” a friend said. “He has thought about retiring for the last three cycles, but was always talked into staying: to elect John Kerry to help end the war, to elect a Democratic majority to get health care done.”
President Barack Obama called Stupak on Wednesday and asked him not to retire. Stupak, 58, also resisted entreaties from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the dean of the Wolverine State delegation.
The Associated Press reports that Stupak “said he was tired after 18 years in office and wanted to spend more time with his family.” He added that the check was in the mail and of course he will respect you in the morning.
Stupak allowed himself to be thoroughly humiliated during the ObamaCare debate. A proponent of socialized medicine but foe of abortion, he held out for months, insisting that he wouldn’t vote for a bill that permitted federal funding of abortion. At the last minute he and a small group of “pro-life” Democrats ran up the white flag, casting the deciding votes in exchange for an executive order that everyone understood was meaningless.
Thus Stupak cast aside his putative principles and failed even to save face. You can see why he might want to “spend more time with the family”–and never have to show his face in public again.