Why Democrats Shouldn’t Negotiate With Stupak Over Abortion

StupakNegotiateSeveral news reports are suggesting that Democrats have begun negotiating with Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) over his objections to the Senate’s abortion provisions (found on, as he likes to point out, on pages 2069-2078 of the Senate health care bill). To dissuade Stupak and his 10-12 anti-abortion colleagues from their paranoia about the government funding abortions, the House would have to pass a completely separate bill before accepting up the Senate legislation.

Negotiations would make sense if Stupak had some legitimate criticism about the Senate language or shared Democrats’ goal of maintaining current funding restrictions. But Stupak is not interested in protecting Hyde. Throughout the health care debate, he has relied on a fundamentally dishonest reading of the legislation because he has understood that health reform is his best opportunity to strip abortion coverage from private health insurance and now, he’s milking it for all it’s worth.

When NPR’s Michelle Block asked Stupak if he’s “really misreading what’s in the language in that Senate bill,” Stupak replied, “I don’t think I misread it” and explained that he understood the Senate abortion language because he was familiar with an earlier (and in some ways less restrictive) abortion amendment the Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) introduced in the House:

STUPAK: Well, I don’t think I misread it. I sit on the Energy and Commerce Committee where Lois Capps injected the same language – the same language in the House bill. So, no, I sat through the committees. It’s very clear. The groups such as the Catholic Bishops, the Right to Life were all reading the language the same way. This is a drastic, radical departure from current federal law which says no public funding for abortion.

But Stupak really knows better. He understands that the Senate language is actually far more stringent than the Capps amendment. While Capps protected Hyde by specifying that subsidy dollars could only be used to abort pregnancies that threaten the life of mother or result from rape or incest, the Senate version explicitly instructs insurers to collect two separate checks from policy holders, sets standards for allocation accounts and authorizes state insurance commissioners to audit insurers’ compliance with the segregation requirements.

These details don’t matter to Stupak because he’s not interested in finding a way to keep public dollars from funding non-Hyde abortion. He wants to restrict abortion coverage in private insurance and his abortion amendment does just that. But fortunately, as Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) points out, “Ten or 11 votes is not going to kill the bill.” “Many of the 39 conservative Democrats who voted against the House bill could well find the moderate Senate version more to their liking.” Stupak is holding the health care bill hostage because he sees is it as an opportunity to insert his minority views into the legislation, but Democrats should call his bluff, keep the already-restrictive Senate abortion language and strip Stupak of his chairmanship.