Friday April 9, 2010

Updated: Beleaguered Dem Rep. Bart Stupak Announces Retirement

By Peter J. Smith

Updated 7:25 EST

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 9, 2010 ( – Following a week of rumors swirling around the embattled Democrat’s career plans, Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak, the co-chairman of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, finally announced his retirement from Congress Friday.

The nine-term Democrat became the focus of immense pressure during the health care debate: Stupak had emerged as the top defender of unborn life in the federal health reform legislation, before finally capitulating hours before last month’s vote, and supporting the bill without a ban on abortion funding.

Stupak agreed to the vote only after President Obama promised to sign an Executive Order, which Stupak said would ban federal funding for abortion in the bill; however, pro-life legal analysts have widely agreed that the Order actually does nothing to change the abortion expansion embedded in the legislation.

Stupak had also excused the move by saying he had been convinced that, contrary to the conclusion of most observers, Speaker Pelosi had the votes to pass the legislation without him and his group of pro-life Democrats anyway – thus, he said, he felt that accepting the Executive Order would be the best deal to fend off the bill’s inevitable abortion expansion.

Stupak broke the news at a press conference held at Northern Michigan University.

The Democrat, who entered Congress in 1992, told his constituents that he was “truly grateful for their support.” He also noted that he first campaigned in 1992 to achieve comprehensive national health care reform for all Americans, and was “proud to have helped bring it across the finish-line.”

While the Michigan Democrat said that he had been considering leaving Congress over the last six years, and that his work had essentially ended with the passage of the health care bill, his retirement is widely believed to be the direct result of the explosively negative public reaction at his about-face to support the controversial bill.

He thanked President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “for their leadership to us across the line as we finally have health care a reality in this country.”

Both President Obama and Speaker Pelosi are said to have encouraged Stupak to reconsider his decision, fearing the seat may come into Republican hands. Stupak, however, rejected the notion that without him his pro-life district was “an automatic Republican seat,” saying he was “not impressed” with the list of potential GOP challengers.

Stupak’s predominately Roman Catholic district has voted largely Democrat, but never an overtly pro-abortion Democrat, since Roe v. Wade. Michigan Right to Life, who revoked their endorsement from Stupak after the vote, pledged to support Stupak’s Republican challenger, Dan Benishek.

Some pro-life leaders expressed dismay over the sad ending to a Democrat career that was once markedly pro-life, while others looked forward to the opportunity to elect a better representative of the pro-life district.

“After almost 20 years of standing firm for the pro-life cause, it seems a shame that Rep. Stupak is leaving Congress as the man who made possible the largest expansion of abortion since 1973,” lamented the Family Research Council.

“Without an opportunity for redemption, this once sincere pro-life leader will be remembered–not for his legacy of protecting the unborn–but for the one vote that made the President’s radical health care reforms law.”

“Rep. Stupak’s retirement now opens up the opportunity for the pro-life majority in his district to elect someone who will stand firm for Life and uphold the principles the voters elected them to uphold,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of the Susan B. Anthony List. “We are pressing forward to promote true pro-life candidates in Michigan and around the country, Democrat or Republican, who will put pro-life over party.”

Charmaine Yoest, President of Americans United for Life, said in a statement that “This is just the beginning of the fallout over pro-abortion health care reform.”

Yoest said that Stupak’s 11th hour deal with President Obama to get an executive order “a sham political deal” that put politics over principle, “and now even the politics are catching up to him.”

Yet Kristen Day, Executive Director of Democrats for Life, told Friday that the pro-life community should recognize that without Stupak’s leadership, the outcome of health-care reform legislation would have had much less pro-life influence.

“We are appreciative of the leadership that Bart Stupak provided with his health care reform bill and he’s been an inspiration for pro-life Democrats,” said Day. “I think there are a lot of pro-life Democrats out there who are ready to carry out his ideals in future elections.”

Day added that it would be a “mistake” for the pro-life community to throw out pro-life Democrats and force the pro-life movement into a partisan alignment with the GOP.

Immediately after the health care legislation passed, Day issued a statement saying that Democrats for Life was “proud to support this historic health care legislation” and insisted, contrary to the evaluation of every other national pro-life leader, that the Executive Order would uphold a Hyde-amendment ban on abortion funding in the bill.

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