Stupak Amendment Energizes Both Sides Of Abortion Debate

After the election, some predicted that abortion would cease to be a contentious issue in America. The reaction to the Stupak Amendment — on both sides of the issue — shows how wrong those people were.

The New York Times's David Kirkpatrick writes that despite the relatively small role abortion played in the 2008 election and in the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, it's hugely important in the healthcare debate. On the anti-choice side, Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List says donations are up 50% from 2007, the last non-election year. She calls abortion coverage in healthcare reform "the biggest fulcrum of activism we have ever had." Ellen Malcolm, of the pro-choice group Emily's List, echoes her observation if not her ideology, saying the Stupak Amendment has touched off the biggest groundswell of support for her group since 1989's Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services. And Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood says, "We have seen money coming in at every level. Congressman Stupak managed to crystallize this movement in a way that is hard to replicate."

Meanwhile, the debate over abortion and healthcare continues to rage in the Senate. According to Time's Jay Newton-Small, there probably aren't enough anti-choice votes to add a Stupak-like amendment to the Senate bill. But because Nancy Pelosi is reportedly considering just passing the Senate bill rather than trying to combine it with the House version, pressure on Senators is intense. Much of it focuses on anti-choice Democrat Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Says Joy Yearout of the Susan B. Anthony List, "He's our No. 1 target to influence others. Casey ran as a pro-life Democrat and it's time he deliver for his constituents." Casey is reportedly considering an amendment that would improve counseling for pregnant women. While this probably won't satisfy anti-choicers, he says, "I just think that there's going to be enough momentum to get a bill passed that one issue - even one very important issue - will not prevent passage."

Despite the inflammatory language used by anti-choice groups (Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says, "We want everybody covered and nobody deliberately killed. It doesn't seem to us an unreasonable request for health care."), limiting abortion coverage may not actually be a key part of healthcare reform for most Americans. Although 46% say government benefits shouldn't cover abortion services (a position, we should note, that's compatible with less extreme restrictions than Stupak), just 3% of healthcare opponents cite abortion as their reason. It may still be true, as it was in the election, that abortion is becoming less of a wedge issue for voters. Unfortunately, it still seems like a wedge issue for lawmakers — perhaps because some feel beholden to an extremely vocal and extremely anti-choice minority. It would be a shame if the Senate, like the House, conceded to this minority by imposing abortion restrictions that, as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand says, "will put the lives of women and girls at risk" — especially if these restrictions aren't even important to most people.

Health Bill Revives Abortion Groups [NYT]
Can Bob Casey Bridge The Abortion Divide On Health Care? [Time]
Abortion To Be New Flashpoint In Senate Bill [Wall Street Journal]