Stopping Stupak: No More Playing Nice?

Yesterday hundreds of activists mobilized by The Coalition to Pass Health Care Reform and Stop Stupak!, comprised of more than 60 pro-choice organizations, went to Capitol Hill to lobby Senators to vote against any Stupak-esque abortion amendment to the health care bill currently being debated on the Senate floor, and to urge members of the House to strip the Stupak-Pitts amendment out of any final bill.

They were joined by a line-up of pro-choice congressional Democrats, including Catholics like Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who pledged unequivocally that no health care bill with a Stupak amendment in it would be become law.

The Stupak amendment “is a devil’s bargain that we will not make,” vowed Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO). She mocked entreaties that pro-choicers “play nice,” declaring, “I am beyond that point.”

The most striking aspect of the two hour-long rally in a Senate auditorium was the full-throated support for reproductive rights, a phenomenon that has been missing from many policy discussions inside the Beltway of late. Democrats have cowered over the past five years from accusations that they were “hostile” to religion because of their support for reproductive rights, and have talked instead about reaching “common ground” with opponents of abortion.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), in a Helen Reddy moment, said, “a sleeping lioness has been awakened.” A vote for the Stupak amendment isn’t “safe,” she added, referring to Democrats allegedly fearing electoral blowback for voting against Stupak. “We have to make clear just how dangerous that is.”

“The real soul of Stupak,” added Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), “is to chip away at Roe v. Wade.”

Culture wars over? New religious activists interested in centrism and giving up the fight over Roe in order to find “common ground?” Those religious activists didn’t have the clout or the will to stop the bishops from holding health care hostage, or to convince Democrats that they had nothing to fear from the bishops and religious right activists.

DeLauro, one of the chief Hill negotiators for common ground on abortion and a Catholic, was scathing in her criticism of the bishops. The House bill, she said, “was pro-life legislation before the bishops engaged.”

As the Rev. Carlton Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, told me shortly after the House bill passed, “the opposition on the right isn’t giving any ground,” adding that “sometimes common ground gets muddled.”

Yesterday, he said, “don’t let anybody tell you that religious people do not support choice.” He “called out” the USCCB, “because no one religion, no theological perspective, should get that kind of weight that they could put pressure on the Congress … and say… if we don’t have our way, we will work against health reform. We in the religious community resent that.”

Women have not only have a constitutional right to abortion, Veazey added, but a “God-given right.”

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) is poised today to offer an amendment, co-sponsored with Republican Orrin Hatch, which he says will be “as identical to Stupak as it can be” (meaning it will bar coverage of abortion by both any public option and private insurance companies participating in an exchange). Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), who earlier in the week said he was working on a “compromise” amendment, has now signaled he would support the Nelson amendment. (Both Boxer and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) told me at the rally yesterday that they did not know anything about the reported Casey amendment, which suggested perhaps it was not an attempted compromise that engaged the pro-choice side.)

Even supporters of the Nelson-Hatch amendment have said they doubt their amendment will pass a floor vote, but Nelson, whose vote is one of 60 Democrats needed to overcome a Republican filibuster of a final bill, said he won’t support a final bill that doesn’t include his abortion-restrictive language.