Monday May 10, 2010

Stupak: ObamaCare Debacle ‘Changed My Relationship with the Pro-life Movement’

By James Tillman

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 10, 2010 ( — U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), the once-hero of the pro-life movement who vowed opposition to the pro-abortion health care reform bill only to vote for it in the end, has described in a Newsweek column how Obama’s 11th-hour promise of an “ironclad” executive order against abortion funding ruptured his relationship with the U.S. Catholic Bishops as partners in protecting the rights of the unborn.

In the column, he repeats his previous assertion that health care reform was going to pass whether or not he and his companions had decided to vote for it – a claim several analysts dispute. “So rather than vote no and lose my power to add pro-life protections,” he writes, “I gathered my coalition to try to reach an agreement with President Obama: an executive order confirming that no federal money would support abortion.”

Pro-life groups have largely agreed that the executive order will not keep the bill from funding abortion. Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee has said the order “basically just recites what’s in the Senate bill” – a point even White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs admitted.

But Stupak’s insistence that Obama would make good on his promise ultimately split him and key supporters from his pro-life Republican counterparts, although a handful of pro-life Democrats voted against the bill despite the deal with President Obama.

Yet, as Stupak’s column describes, Obama’s executive order did not merely split apart pro-life congressmen: Stupak, who is Catholic, says that just before an agreement was struck he “put in a final call to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which had been among my strongest supporters during the fall.”

“I was disappointed by what I heard,” he writes. “No, no, no, no, they said. We need statutory law.”

Stupak says he pointed to President Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation and George W. Bush’s order on embryonic stem-cell research as examples of executive orders having full force of law – an argument he has since repeated. However, those arguments have been disputed as well: Yuval Levin, former chief of staff of the President’s Council on Bioethics, said that comparing Bush’s executive order to Obama’s “makes no sense whatsoever.” “The order was in no way designed to … change an existing law, modify the treatment of the life question in federal law, or anything else that Stupak is suggesting President Obama’s order will do,” wrote Levin in March. The legal force of Lincoln’s executive order is disputed.

Nonetheless, Stupak says he told the bishops, “President Obama assures me that this is ‘ironclad.’”

He continues: “Besides, I said, it’s time to negotiate or lose our chance to shape the bill. Help me with it? No, they said. Won’t you at least look at it? No.”

“That call changed my relationship with the pro-life movement.”

More instances of division among top pro-life defenders encouraged by the White House during the health reform fight may easily be found.

White House Press Secretary Rober Gibbs already revealed that President Obama actively supported the Catholic Health Association (CHA) and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) as they broke with the U.S. Catholic Bishop’s Conference to support his health care legislation.

The president met personally with Sr. Carol Keehan, CHA’s president, in which the President was “effusive about her support and about her as a person for making the courageous statements that she has,” Gibbs said.

Many judge the support of Keehan and the lobby group to have broken the resolve of pro-life Democrats, as the nuns’ association gave the health care bill the veneer of conformity with Catholic teaching.


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