As you may know, I ran unsuccessfully for the Alabama State Senate in 2010; not many Democrats were successful in Alabama in November. Nevertheless, during the campaign, people regularly questioned me about my positions on abortion; I was openly and expreslly pro-life. I find no inconsistency between being pro-life and being a Democrat.
I was (and am) continually frustrated that the perception in Alabama (and elsewhere) was that Democrats could not be pro-life and that the Republican Party is the “Christian, Pro-life Party.”
I found a recent interview with pro-life, former Congressman Democrat Bart Stupak sheds light on the falsehood of the perceptions. It revealed another example wherein the Republican leadership merely used the abortion issue as a political tool, wedge; it reveals also something about President Obama.
The Atlantic: You were a central player in the abortion fight. You supported the Hyde language throughout, and then at the last minute it passed on the agreement that President Obama would issue an executive order clarifying the language that was in the bill. Do you still feel that executive order was enough to live up to your expectations on abortion policy?
Stupak: Yes, because the president has had three opportunities to throw us under the us, if you will, and he has not. Number one, in the high-risk pools. Remember how New Mexico send theirs in and had abortion in there, and Right to Life and all of them jumped right on it, and [Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius and all of them said, ‘Wait a minute, you can’t do that. We had an executive order.’ They changed their law. So did Pennsylvania. So in order to apply for the high-risk pool, their law had to be reflective of the executive order, which says no public funding for abortions. They held firm to it.
Secondly, the community health centers, which the law was silent on. The executive order says you cannot perform abortions or advocate for them in public health centers. That has been upheld.
And, last but not least, there’s a number of grants you can apply for right now, especially for developing health care professionals–that’s going on right now in the bill–and if you go online and look at the applicaiton form, it says you must comply with the Hyde language, even in your application for the use of these federal funds. So there have been three opportunities for Secretary Sebelius or President Obama to just sorta look the other way, and they haven’t. They’ve upheld it. So there have actually been less abortions now because of that executive order and the health care bill than there would have been if we’d never had it. . . .
Atlantic: Was it unpleasant talking to Rahm? Everybody thinks he’s just a screamer and shouter and would just wave his fists around–
Stupak: No, Rahm doesn’t scream and shout at me, ’cause he knows better. I’ll just tell him to go to Hell and move on. No, no. rahm and I had a couple of good conversations. The executive order came up in the conversations we had a few weeks before it ever came.
But, to be honest with you, I’d been working with some of the Senate Republicans on trying to find some way to do a technical corrections bill. And actually, truth be known, the Republican leadership in the Senate pulled the rug out on me on that on Thursday night, the Thursday before that Monday [when the final vote occurred]. Most people don’t realize that.
Anyways, long story short, I always thought we would have some statutory language. It wasn’t until Thursday before the vote that when the Republican leadership on the Senate side said no go … and the reason was that it would pass.
Atlantic: Health care would have passed the Senate with Hyde language?
Stupak: Yeah. It would fly though the Senate. So they weren’t interested in getting health care passed, they were interested in killing it. So every suggestion, every legislative proposal I had–and I knew I had to get to 60 votes in the Senate–I was led to believe up to that point in time they’d work with me. And they pulled the rug out that Thursday before. Remember, they went home that Thursday night, or that Friday night there. They weren’t around that weekend when we voted on the health care bill.
Republicans used abortion as a talking point to bash the healthcare plan, but when the President and other House Democrats agreed to include the pro-life provisions the Republicans were demanding, it was the Republicans which “pulled the rug” on the compromise. The reason: they would lose their political hocky-puck, their wedge.
The President though remained committed to his word to Stupak on an pro-life executive order:
Stupak: And I give [the President] credit. I’ve called him and told him, ‘Thank you.’ He’s upheld that executive order. When he signed it, he said this was an ironclad commitment–those were his words, ‘ironclad commitment,’ and I’ll give him credit. He’s done it. I say that maybe with a little bit of surprise in my voice, I always thought he would, but there was so much outrage from the Bishops and Right to Life that, ‘How could we trust this president, cause he’s the–‘ I hate to use the word–but ‘the most pro-abortion president ever, and you can’t trust him.’ Well, I trusted him, and that trust was well founded.
Here is another example where partisanship trumped commitment to principle. The Republican Senators did not want to give up their wedge, their talking point, their fundraising issue so they “pulled the rug” out from under Stupak and the Pro-life Democrats. Following this “rug-pulling,” the President and Stupak were then attacked for not having the Hyde Amendment language in the bill when it would have passed but for the Republicans.
The National Right to Life Committee argued that seven objectionable pro-abortion provisions in the Senate bill are unchanged.
“The executive order promised by President Obama was issued for political effect. It changes nothing. It does not correct any of the serious pro-abortion provisions in the bill. The president cannot amend a bill by issuing an order, and the federal courts will enforce what the law says,” the group said.
Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund President Marjorie Dannenfelser said the group was revoking its “Defender of Life” award to Stupak, which was to be awarded at its Wednesday night gala.
“We were planning to honor Congressman Stupak for his efforts to keep abortion-funding out of health care reform. We will no longer be doing so,” Dannenfelser said. “Let me be clear: any representative, including Rep. Stupak, who votes for this health care bill can no longer call themselves ‘pro-life.’
Let’s us not uncritically accept partisan rhetoric nor be fooled that either party has the exclusive province of purity and righteousness.