Monday March 22, 2010

Interview: Democrats for Life Defends Health Care Bill

By James Tillman

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 22, 2010 ( — Democrats for Life has said in a statement that they are “proud to support” the health care bill, combined with its promised executive order, that practically every other pro-life organization in the United States has panned as disastrous to the pro-life movement.

“We are proud to support this historic healthcare legislation,” reads the statement by Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life. “President Obama’s Executive Order shows that when we work towards common ground in Washington we can do the people’s business and end the gridlock.

“By working with House Leaders and the White House, DFLA shows how the pro-life Democrats are a key and growing constituency.”

Democrat Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, who had led a band of pro-life Democrats holding out against the bill due to its abortion funding, decided to support the health care bill hours before the final vote Sunday evening, when the measure passed 219-216. Stupak, whose group could have killed the bill, said he had changed his mind based on an agreement with President Obama to issue an executive order purporting to apply Hyde-amendment restrictions on abortion funding to the health care overhaul.

But Stupak’s and Democrats for Life’s optimism over the arrangement contradicts drastically with nearly every other pro-life press release regarding the results of the health care vote: The National Right to Life Convention, the American Life League, the Susan B. Anthony List, and other top pro-life organizations had also condemned the executive order as a grossly insufficient measure.

Kristen Day, however, defended her statement, telling that there “can be good arguments on either side” regarding the efficacy of the executive order, “and as we move forward we should respect each other.”

“People disagree about what the executive order will do and what the health care bill will do,” she said. “We have to remember what unites us.”

She also claimed that much of the anger directed at Stupak and his companions pertained more to the passing of the health care reform bill than to any pro-life cause, and said that “pro-life Democrats supported health care reform all along.”

“People have very strong opinions about he health care bill, and we can’t let that carry over into the pro-life movement and let that rip us apart,” she said.

Moreover, she considered the influence Stupak and others had held in the debate to be a good sign for the future.

“For the first time in a long time, pro-life Democrats really have a strong voice in the party,” she said. “What some view as a setback, with the legislation. . . [I see] as a real positive step for the movement because of the strong voices within the Democratic party.

“And you bet that this group is going to stay together and that they’re going to be more of a force within the party.”

In particular, she decried any attempts to punish the pro-life Democrats who ended up voting for the bill. “The pro-life community cannot afford to lose them,” she said.

Yet Day’s arguments seem likely to fall on deaf ears: even the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a key supporter of health care reform, acknowledged that the executive order plan did not actually solve the pro-life problems with the bill.

Other pro-life groups had strong words for the Democrats’ last-minute turnaround.

“Let me be clear: any representative, including Rep. Stupak, who votes for this healthcare bill can no longer call themselves ‘pro-life,'” said Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List.

“The executive order on abortion funding does absolutely nothing to fix the problems presented by the health care reform bill that the House will vote on this evening,” she continued. “An executive order can be rescinded at any time at the President’s whim, and the courts could and have a history of trumping executive orders.

“Most importantly, pro-abortion Representatives have admitted the executive order is meaningless.”

Phyllis Schlafly, president of the conservative Eagle Forum, declared that “any formerly pro-life Democrat who voted ‘Yes’ on the Senate health care bill tonight will be forever remembered as being among the deciding votes which facilitated the largest expansion of abortion services since Roe v. Wade.”

“Mr. Stupak and his Democrat followers have now clarified that you cannot be pro-life and be a Democrat,” said Schlafly. “If abortion was truly their biggest issue, they wouldn’t willfully align themselves with the Party of Death.

“This vote has exposed the myth of the ‘pro-life Democrat.'”

Republican congressional candidate Dan Benishek, who is running for Stupak’s seat, has seen the numbers of his Facebook supporters increase from less than 2,000 to over 15,000, while donations to his campaign have also reportedly increased vastly since the bill passed.