Saturday, March 27, 2010

Health Reform Watch Post Mortem: Rep. Bart Stupak comments on why he wrote the Stupak-Pitts Amednent

Mr. Stupak, author of the infamous Stupak-Pitts amendment that would essentially have prohibited all insurance plans on the insurance exchanges from offering abortion services (although buyers might be able to shop for completely separate riders covering abortions), talks in a Washington Post op-ed about the flak he has taken from pro-lifers. Mr. Stupak and many of his original colleagues in the House dropped their earlier demands in exchange for an executive order.

His commitment to health reform as well as his pro-life principles seems clear to me. He even described the entire package, after his agreement with the President, as a pro-life bill, which was significant. In contrast, he says that many conservative pro-life organizations which rallied around him were doing so in hopes that the split on abortion would result in the bill's failure:

When I saw that Kathleen Parker's March 24 op-ed, "Stupak's original sin," defined me as a "backstabber," it reminded me of a Bible verse. Matthew 7:3 asks, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"

The true motives of many blogs and organizations claiming to be pro-life have become clear in recent days: to politicize life issues as a means to defeat health care reform. One group even sent an e-mail to supporters saying they are "working feverishly to stop this legislation from going forward."

The pro-life groups rallied behind me -- many without my knowledge or consent -- not necessarily because they shared my goals of ensuring protections for life and passing health-care reform but because they viewed me as their best chance to kill health-care legislation.

He admits that an executive order does not quite have the force of law. However, while an executive order can indeed be overruled by legislation or by the judiciary, the order that the President signed will likely not be overturned.

Therefore, I and other pro-life Democrats struck an agreement with President Obama to issue an executive order that would ensure all Hyde Amendment protections would apply to the health-care reform bill. No, an executive order is not as strong as the statutory language we fought for at the start. We received, however, an "ironclad" commitment from the president that no taxpayer dollars will be used to pay for abortions.

Throughout history, executive orders have carried the full force and effect of law and have served as an important means of implementing public policy. Perhaps the most famous executive order was the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. More recently, in 2007, President George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13435, restricting embryonic stem-cell research. This executive order protected the sanctity of life and was "applauded" and "welcomed" by pro-life advocates. That these same people would now claim that President Obama's executive order maintaining the sanctity of life is not worth the paper it is written on is disingenuous at best.

Some, including Parker, have criticized Obama's executive order as unenforceable in the courts and therefore just a "fig leaf." Yet the language that critics point to is standard language with any executive order, including Bush's ban on embryonic stem-cell research. Again, many of these pro-life groups did not express concern over the Bush language but claim it is unacceptable under Obama.

To further protect against federal funding for abortion, during floor debate on the health-care reform bill I engaged in a colloquy with Rep. Henry Waxman to make clear congressional intent that the provisions in the bill, combined with the executive order, will ensure that outcome. Such colloquies are often referred to in court cases when an attempt is being made to determine Congress's intent. This, too, was no minor concession by those opposed to our efforts, and it is a tremendous victory for those protecting the sanctity of life.

I absolutely disagree with Mr. Stupak that an accounting segregation of funds was insufficient, as well as on the basic issue of abortion. While abortion is never good, because it ends a human life, it does not end the life of a human person. It is a terrible choice that should be left to parents, if they feel they need to make that choice. However, it should be emphasized that Mr. Stupak was committed to passing health reform. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said so herself in an interview with Rachel Maddow. Pro-choicers should cut him a break - we can live with the resulting legislation, and again, abortion deeply divides the American people and this uneasy cease-fire is something we have to live with. Furthermore, Mr. Stupak is to be commended for his willingness to abide by his principles and to be flexible in doing so. If the pro-lifers who thought that insuring all Americans was not pro-life want to take shots at him, let them do so on their own.

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