Rep. Bart Stupak, progenitor of the Stupak-Pitts and thorn-in-the-side of healthcare reform, said last week that he wouldn't sign the current bill because it would "directly subsidize abortions." Now he's optimistic about a compromise. Time for champagne?
Not quite yet — unless you need alcohol to dull the pain of endless legislative wrangling. By this point, many voters are probably confused about what Congress is even fighting over. Luckily, the AP has a handy-dandy explainer. Basically, the House version of the bill — thanks to Stupak's involvement — says no plan that receives public subsidies may cover abortion at all. The current Senate version — with language spearheaded by Sen. Ben Nelson — allows such plans to cover abortion as long as customers pay with a separate payment. Under reconciliation, a legislative procedure that looks like the only way to bypass the need for a supermajority in the Senate (which the Dems no longer have thanks to this guy), Congress would send the Senate bill to Obama, along with a separate House bill making certain changes. Stupak and other anti-abortion Democrats are fighting to make the abortion language one of those changes.
One thing that's interesting to remember here is that pro-choice groups aren't opposing healthcare reform, despite the fact that, according to the AP, "Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America say the House and Senate versions of the bill represent the biggest expansion of abortion restrictions in years." It's only anti-abortion advocates who are standing in the way of what even Stupak calls "a right-to-life bill" because of the 45,000 Americans who die every year because they lack adequate healthcare. Also, all those currently blocking the reform bill are Democrats, because all Republicans are voting against it no matter what. Yes, despite Sen. Lindsey Graham's claim that reconciliation violates the Senate's spirit of compromise, no Republican has been willing to cross the aisle on a measure that could save 45,000 lives a year. Surely it's because they're all too principled.
Stupak made a similar claim for himself and other anti-abortion Democrats last week, saying, "we're not going to bypass some principles that we believe strongly about." However, on Monday he told the AP,
I'm more optimistic than I was a week ago. [...] The president says he doesn't want to expand or restrict current law (on abortion). Neither do I. That's never been our position. So is there some language that we can agree on that hits both points - we don't restrict, we don't expand abortion rights? I think we can get there.
It's still not clear whether his optimism is warranted — though last week a House aide said some Republican contributions on medical billing and malpractice would be added to the bill, and House Dems sent parts of the legislation to the Congressional Budget Office, which the AP calls "a sign of movement." Some of Stupak's constituents want him to hold firm on abortion — one says, "To me it's a matter of sticking to his guns." But 77-year-old Donna Reminder, who's anti-abortion, argues, "I'd say go for it anyway. We need it. Not having good health care is killing a lot of people." And Rev. Derrick Harkins of the Nineteenth St. Baptist Church in Washington says,
You can't be blanket pro-life and not address those things that encourage women to make the choice of having an abortion. If you are really looking to reduce the number of abortions in America, one of the things that will make that happen is to have comprehensive health care coverage.
Stupak: Health Bill Abortion Fight Can Be Resolved [AP, via Brattleboro Reformer]
A Policy Change On Abortion, But How Radical? [AP, via SentinelandEnterprise.com]
Obama Nudges House Dems On Health Care [AP, via MSNBC]
12 Democrats Hung Up on Abortion Provision [CBS/AP]
Reconciliation: Why Healthcare Reform 'Nuclear Option' Is Deadly [Christian Science Monitor]