Friday March 26, 2010

The House of Pro-Life Democrats Divided on Health Care Bill

By Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 26, 2010 ( – The capitulation of Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan and his group of fellow pro-life Democrats to President Obama’s health care plan has overshadowed the resoluteness of pro-life Democrats who did oppose the measure, including the one pro-life Democrat who stood firm in changing his vote from “yes” to “no” in small part over the bill’s abortion-promoting provisions.

Abandoned by Stupak and his fellow pro-life economic liberals, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) cast his vote against the Senate’s health care reform bill, because it did not have the Stupak-Pitts amendment that was included in the House bill. The Stupak-Pitts amendment sought to prevent federal dollars from both subsidizing abortions directly through federal subsidies and financially supporting the bottom line of insurance companies that subsidize abortion coverage.

In a statement about his health care vote, Lipinski explained, “of great concern to me and to a significant majority of my constituents, this bill changes current federal policy and provides funding for abortion. This is not acceptable. It is in direct contradiction of the Hyde Amendment, which for more than three decades has prohibited federally funded abortion.”

He also added, “I do not believe the last minute effort to address these concerns through an Executive Order is sufficient because there is every indication that federal courts would strike down this order, and the order could be repealed at any time in the future.”

Just hours before the scheduled Sunday vote, Stupak announced that he and his group of Democrats would be voting “yes” on the Senate health care bill, holding aloft an executive order from President Obama that he said would prevent abortion funding in the bill, but which pro-life critics have dismissed as merely a “reiteration” of the Nelson-Casey language already in the problematic Senate bill.

Pro-life advocates were stunned by Stupak’s sudden reversal, since he had firmly opposed the Nelson-Casey language as inadequate, until the 11th hour. The Nelson-Casey language allows insurance companies offering abortion coverage to benefit financially from federal subsidies, so long as only their private funds pay for abortion services – a solution national pro-life groups denounced as an accounting gimmick.

The deal left Lipinski out in the cold as the only economic liberal who nevertheless cast a “no” vote for a health care reform bill he otherwise might have been able to support had it included Stupak’s language.

“He took a great principled stand in voting against the Senate bill, and we deeply respect that,” Mary Harned, a member of AUL’s legal counsel, told

In contrast, Harned said that Stupak and his bloc “squandered” an “amazing opportunity to insist that there be a statutory prohibition of federal funding for abortion included in health care reform” by accepting the president’s executive order in exchange for their votes.

Harned disagreed with the statement from some conservative commentators that “there is no such thing as a pro-life Democrat,” and that if anything, the whole health care debate was encouraging because some Democrats did identify themselves as pro-life – while they did not succeed in making all the changes they needed to the bill, “at least the dialogue got rolling.”

“We’re not a Republican organization, we work on both sides of the aisle,” said Harned. “We still dream there’s hope that more pro-life Democrats will run for office and take a principled stand that the Democratic Party should not embrace the abortion lobby’s agenda.”

Lipinski (Ill.-3) joined 18 Democrats with mixed or complete pro-life records scored by National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) to vote against the Senate bill and for the motion to send the bill back to the Senate with changes. Those Democrats are: Reps. Bobby Bright (Ala.-2), Marion Berry (Ark.-1), Mike Ross (Ark.-4), John Barrow (Ga.-12), Jim Marshall (Ga.-8), Ben Chandler (Ken.-6), Charles Melancon (La.-3), Collin Peterson (Minn.-7), Travis Childers (Miss.-1), Gene Taylor (Miss.-4), Ike Skelton (Mo.-4), Mike McIntyre (N.C.-7), Heath Shuler (N.C.-11), Dan Boren (Okla.-2), Jason Altmire (Penn.-4), Tim Holden (Penn.-17), Lincoln Davis (Tenn.-4), and Jim Matheson (Utah-2).

Democrat Reps. Artur Davis (Ala.-7), Stephen Lynch (Mass.-9), Zack Space (Ohio-18), and John Tanner (Tenn.-8) voted against the Senate health reform bill, and also voted against the motion to recommit.

Twenty other Democrats with mixed or complete pro-life records scored by NRLC, and who had previously indicated they would change their votes from a “yes” to a “no” over Stupak language, ultimately voted for the Senate bill – the last hold-outs being Stupak and a half-dozen pro-life Democrats won over by Obama’s promise of an executive order. They were Reps. Jerry Costello (Ill.-12), Joe Donnelly (Ind.-2), Brad Ellsworth (Ind.-8), Baron Hill (Ind.-9), Bart Stupak (Mich.-1), Dale Kildee (Mich.-5), James Oberstar (Minn.-8), Earl Pomeroy (N.D.-all), Steve Driehaus (Ohio-1), Charlie Wilson (Ohio-6), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio-9), Kathy Dahlkemper (Penn.-3), Christopher Carney (Penn.-10), Paul Kanjorski (Penn.-11), Mike Doyle (Penn.-14), James Langevin (R.I.-2), Solomon Ortiz (Tex.-27), Tom Perriello (Va.-5), Alan Mollohan (W.V.-1), Nick Rahall (W.V.-3).


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