Stupak's Painful Lesson for Abortion Foes
For more than three months, “Bart Stupak will stop this” was a rallying cry for pro-lifers concerned about the Senate’s abortion-funding health bill. However, Stupak caved in exchange for President Obama issuing an executive order that did absolutely “nothing that the Senate bill didn’t do.” In addition, President Obama could repeal his executive order tomorrow.
In essence, these pro-life Democrats sacrificed the cause they held dear to pass a bill that Congressman Stupak said funds abortion -- and they got nothing of substance from President Obama in return.
For pro-life activists, the passage of health care reform with its abortion premium and lack of conscience protections for pro-life medical workers should serve as a wake-up call that the Republican Party is the only reliable source of pro-life leadership.
Pro-lifers have tried to play the abortion issue in much the same way the NRA has played the gun issue. The NRA Political Victory Fund famously endorses both Republicans and Democrats who share its position. They can do this quite easily because gun control is, for the most part, a somewhat isolated issue. Abortion is far more complex, as the health care vote revealed.
Democrats had to choose between their pro-life principles and their desire to pass comprehensive health care. They opted for the expansion of big government, and this is just the latest in a series of sell-outs of the pro-life community that go back decades.
Before Stupak, Senators Ben Nelson (D-Ne.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) sold out the pro-life movement by pushing through the Senate health care bill.
Some other disappointments include:
Democrats for Life of America had to dismiss Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH), a former board member elected with endorsements from National Right to Life, after Ryan introduced an abortion reduction bill that included funds for the world’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood.
Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) switched from pro-life to pro-choice before the 2004 presidential election so he could run a credible campaign.
This is hardly an exhaustive list. The number of Democrats who at one time were “pro-life” is staggering, and includes Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Ted Kennedy, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), and Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ).
Pro-life voters often take the view that a pro-life candidate is always better than a pro-choice candidate. In reality, a moderately pro-choice Republican is probably a better pick for the abortion issue than a pro-life Democrat.
Consider the political gravity of the abortion issue. As a rule, politicians are ambitious people. Getting elected to high office will often lead to seeking an even higher office. Had Clinton run in the 1992 Democratic primaries as a pro-life Democrat, Jerry Brown would have been elected president. Trying to climb the political ladder as a pro-life Democrat is like trying to swim to the surface from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean with a 200-pound lead weight tied around your waist.
With pro-life Democrats, abortion is often only one concern of many and is usually tied to an overall bigger government agenda, as illustrated by Congressman Tim Ryan’s “give Planned Parenthood money to reduce abortion” bill. Since they belong to a political party that takes a stridently pro-choice stance and received 98% of Planned Parenthood’s political contributions in the 2008 cycle, abortion is far down on the list of the pro-life Democrats' priorities.
Politicians are asked to take a stand on every issue under the sun. If a politician is a good person, some of these stands are very important to them. However, some issues are about as important to political leaders as what toppings they’ll have on their pizza.
In some races, it behooves a candidate to run on an issue he doesn’t care about in order to get elected and then use the advantages of incumbency to secure the seat while disappointed supporters sigh about being betrayed by yet another politician.
A pro-abortion stance is an article of faith within the Democratic Party. Democrats who want to be leaders of their party need to distance themselves from pro-life credentials.
In contrast, in the Republican Party the pressures are almost exactly the opposite. Witness the transformation of Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) from a 1996 pro-choice Senate candidate to a candidate who now runs as pro-life.
Mitt Romney likewise ran as pro-choice in Massachusetts and told the National Abortion Rights Action League they needed someone like him in Washington. However, in order to go to Washington as anything other than a U.S. senator, Romney needed to change his abortion position -- so he did.
Even Rudy Giuliani moderated his pro-choice views for the 2008 presidential campaign. While mayor of New York and running for the U.S. Senate in New York, Giuliani took the position that partial birth abortion shouldn’t be banned. Now, he favors banning partial birth abortion. On overturning Roe v. Wade, Guliani said, “It’d be okay.”
Giuliani’s remark came off as flippant and satisfied no one concerned about abortion, but his statement reflected the view of many politicians. If Roe v. Wade were overturned tomorrow, there would be few congressional offices where the boss would spring for chardonnay to celebrate. A similarly small number of members of Congress would truly be sullen and depressed. Politicians would manufacture the feelings where appropriate, but most politicians didn’t become involved in politics because of a concern about abortion. They would rather take the politically convenient stand on an issue they don’t truly care about.
Moderately pro-choice Republicans who oppose abortion after the first trimester and who oppose abortion funding while supporting restrictions like parental consent may also be a better pick for pro-life voters in a general election than a pro-life Democrat because of the limited good congresspeople can do on abortion. Given the implausibility of banning abortion right now, there’s a limited number of issues pro-life Democrats can effect:
1) Leadership of congress
Who controls Congress determines who is the speaker of the House and the majority leader of the Senate. Electing a member of Congress is not unlike marrying someone. You not only marry them, you marry their whole family. Every pro-life Democrat in Congress has made it possible for Nancy Pelosi to serve as speaker of the House, Harry Reid to serve as Senate majority leader, and Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to be in charge of the judiciary committees. Every pro-life vote to elect a “pro-life Democrat” has the effect of empowering the pro-choice hegemony in Congress.
2) Abortion-funding restrictions
A pro-life Democrat who opposes abortion funding and a pro-choice Republican who opposes abortion funding will promise to vote the same way, except the pro-choice Republican won’t receive pressure from the whip’s office to vote for abortion funding. The same thing goes for general abortion policy.
On the abortion issue, the saying "personnel is policy" is spot-on. And it’s here that pro-life Democrats consistently disappoint. Despite the fact Sonia Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy would almost certainly favor abortion rights, both pro-life Senate Democrats supported her confirmation. A look back at the 2006 Pennsylvania Senate race between Santorum and Casey reminds us that Santorum would never have supported Sotomayor.
Even the sainted Governor Bob Casey, Sr. appointed a pro-choice Democrat to the Senate and ensured his election in 1991. Why? Party loyalty binds pro-life Democrats to support and promote the party’s overwhelmingly pro-choice appointees and political candidates.
Any politician who has been in office builds a political machine, and the political machines of pro-life Democrats end up helping elect many extremely pro-choice Democrats. While Stupak is synonymous with pro-life Democrats, his campaign committee has sent thousands of dollars to pro-choice candidates and officeholders, such as Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
There are sincere pro-life Democrats out there who really believe what they say and are trying the best they can. However, invariably, because of their party membership, they do more damage than good to the pro-life cause. Pro-lifers putting their trust in “pro-life Democrats” are asking for more drama than a season of Melrose Place.
The goal of pro-life activists shouldn’t be to elect dishonest and self-serving Republicans who only see the light after feeling the heat. The goal should be to elect sincere, committed statesmen who take a pro-life stance. However, to avoid the waste of money, credibility, and patience brought about by pro-life sunshine soldiers like Ben Nelson and Tim Ryan, pro-lifers would do best to invest their efforts in the Republican Party only.