Just days before a group of House Democratic leaders strode across the Capitol plaza to an alleged cascade of taunts at the climax of the health care debate, Rep. Bart Stupak and his wife were barraged with profane phone calls at their home in Menominee, Michigan. The nine-term Stupak was sautéed in liberal hatred because of his partnership with Pennsylvania’s Joe Pitts in a comprehensive amendment to prevent government subsidies for abortion in his party’s health care reform bill.
As everyone now knows, by Sunday, March 21, the “living hell” of pressure to which Stupak was subjected finally got to him. Flayed and fried by the angry Left, Bart Stupak caved on the pro-life amendment he had stood by for months. First, on the Friday before the final vote on the House floor, he severed contact with groups like ours. On Saturday rumors emerged that he was working with the Obama White House on an executive order that purported to enforce the terms of his amendment.
Then came Sunday afternoon’s climactic House vote and there was Stupak, live on all the networks, standing alongside a half-dozen other pro-life Democratic hold-outs in the House press gallery, announcing their retreat. I sat on the steps of the Rayburn House Office Building and listened over a cell phone to the press conference where our Democratic champion handed us the most spectacular defeat since Roe.
If only it were a political defeat. Instead, it was a defeat in the battle to save the lives of untold numbers of unborn children, the hearts of their anxious and conflicted mothers, and the consciences of taxpayers who deserve something better than what ObamaCare will deliver.
Before the night was over, there was worse. In one final desperate maneuver, the House Republican leadership offered a motion to recommit Speaker Pelosi’s health care bill to committee with an instruction to include the original Stupak-Pitts language. And there on the floor of the House stood Stupak himself pleading for the defeat of his own amendment and praising his fellow Democrats as the real champions for limits on federal funding of abortion.
Over the past three months, I’ve been asked countless times why my organization (and many others besides) trusted Bart Stupak. It’s a fair question. More than two decades in the abortion wars in the nation’s capital have taught me to be wary, and to be realistic about the tense political forces at work on the life issues in both parties.
The high-water GOP vote for life was 219 in July 1998 when the House overrode President Clinton’s veto of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. The Republicans were joined by 77 Democrats that day on a measure that, we now know, politically terrified Barack Obama’s new nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, then a White House adviser.
Other House votes in the modern era have more typically seen the magic majority of 218 secured by Republican tallies between 190 and 210 and Democratic counts between 33 and 54. On almost every vote taken on a life issue in the House over the past 30 years, the measure would not have passed without the help of pro-life Democrats.
That, more than anything else, was why we relied on Bart Stupak to stand fast.
Now he is gone and the pro-life Democrats in the House are reduced to less than 20. Call it the evil genius of President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid or what you will, but their health care reform strategy not only secured a landmark legislative victory for the White House, but it also secured massive public subsidies for plans containing elective abortions and cut the House Democratic pro-life caucus in half.
The massive health care reform package was shrewdly characterized by the Democratic Left as an effort to maintain the status quo on abortion policy. But nothing in the multi-trillion dollar health care monstrosity resembles the status quo. The new reality is that, unless the states act one-by-one to block it, millions of Americans will acquire federal tax credits to underwrite most of the cost of health insurance that covers elective abortion.
The battle to dismantle this atrocity and to build a true Culture of Life is now underway, and a reckoning must happen for those Democrats – from old hands like Stupak and former House Pro-Life Caucus Co-Chair Alan Mollohan to new turncoats like Dahlkemper and Driehaus.
On May 10, Rep. Mollohan became the first leading House Democrat to understand that we mean business. Pro-life Americans have a vision to see Roe v. Wade reversed and babies in the womb protected in law, but we will never accept a government that would plunge our tax dollars into the abortion trade.
It is now time for the Republican Party to embrace the life issues with passion and political investment. This shift will not be automatic for some. Many continue to believe that GOP operatives like to have the abortion issue in their quiver, but quiver personally when the pro-life base demands substantive action.
The Republican nomination of Dede Scozzafava in the NY-23 special election is an example. In order to secure what they thought would be an easy pick-up, Republican leadership set aside principle to back the candidate that had an "R" beside her name. That candidate turned out to be one of the strongest pro-abortion leaders in the NY Legislature and the proud recipient of Planned Parenthood's Margaret Sanger Award. The strategy? Disregard principle and run with party affiliation.
The current Republican congressional leadership includes men and women who have longer vision. Joe Pitts is one. On April 22 he introduced his simply named Protect Life Act, H.R. 5111, with 57 cosponsors, now at 110 cosponsors. Bart Stupak is not among them, but the loyal pro-life remnant of House Democrats is represented by Dan Lipinski of Illinois, Gene Taylor of Mississippi and others who quietly shared our grief and dismay at the defections of longtime pro-life Democrats like Stupak, Dale Kildee of Michigan and Jim Oberstar of Minnesota.
Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, is another member with vision. Pence is among the House’s most stirring speakers. He has cosponsored the Protect Life Act and he has gone to the floor and battled toe-to-toe with the Congressional majority that continues to send public funds to Planned Parenthood and other mainstays of the global abortion industry.
Michele Bachmann, Republican from Minnesota, gets it too. As one of 10 pro-life women in the House, Bachmann is one of the most powerful voices against the pro-abortion feminist establishment. In her two terms in Congress, she has made it a priority to introduce the Positive Alternatives Act, which makes TANF funds available for alternatives to abortion services.
Pitts, Bachmann and Pence have it right. Now they need a national party apparatus and campaign committees that stand with them on their convictions. The National Republican Congressional Committee took a strong step in this direction two months ago when it announced it is targeting 15 “Stupak Sellouts” for their Benedict Arnold numbers on ObamaCare. The other GOP committees should take similar steps.
Eric Cantor has it right, too. At a crucial point in negotiations over abortion language in the House version of the health care bill, Cantor stopped the move to strip pro-life language. Anyone who saw the deeply moved House Minority Leader John Boehner accept the Americans United for Life Henry Hyde Award at a ceremony on May 5 knows what a passion for the issue looks like.
The Republican Party at the local state and national level must stand with the pro-life and social issue movement. The policy manifestation of pro-life principle is the Pitts bill. Any serious contract with America must include language supporting this legislative initiative. The NRCC “Stupak Sellouts” campaign is a good start, but the pro-life message must be integrated at all levels of party activity from today through Election Day 2012 when we select a new president.
Candidates for Congress in most parts of the country can count on the fact that the American mind is made up about abortion and health care. After a full year of national debate on the inclusion of abortion in health care reform, opposition to taxpayer subsidies of the practice only grew, reaching 72 percent in the November 2009 Quinnipiac survey.
On March 21, with howls of execration from the Democratic Left still ringing in his ears, Bart Stupak stumbled across the Rubicon. He joined Nancy Pelosi, Rahm Emanuel and their minions there for a massive photo op. His attack on the noble pro-life tradition of many Democrats can’t and won’t be forgotten. Our task now – our determination – is to turn that liberal triumph into a loss of historic proportions.