GOP lawmakers sent a clear message to thousands of anti-abortion activists gathered on the National Mall on Friday: The healthcare reform bill died because of the strength of the pro-life movement.
More than a dozen lawmakers remained in D.C. for Friday’s events organized by the March for Life Fund on the 37th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling in favor of a woman’s right to choose in the case Roe v. Wade.
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) rallied the crowd of anti-abortion compatriots, crediting those huddled together in the cold for keeping the pressure on Democrats to force a vote on a controversial amendment that would ban federal funding of abortion from government-run healthcare plans.
“You have changed hearts and minds. We have just won a debate on healthcare in that they are not going to have abortion funding in this bill and that’s because of your interest in it,” the longtime anti-abortion lawmaker said over loudspeakers.
The Stupak amendment, pressed into the House healthcare bill by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), has proven to be a sticking point for members of the House Democratic caucus as their leaders have attempted to gather the 218 votes needed to approve a Senate-passed version of healthcare reform that does not include the strict language on abortion.
Instead, the Senate bill has what was called the Nelson compromise, as in centrist Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), because it is a much watered-down version of the Stupak provision that would let states decide whether to allow funding for abortions.
After Tuesday’s “political rebellion” in Massachusetts, as House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) refers to the unexpected landslide victory of Republican Sen.-elect Scott Brown, House Democrat leaders scrambled on Wednesday to rally a majority of their 257-member caucus in favor of the Senate’s bill, since Brown vowed to be the 41st vote to filibuster a House-Senate conference report healthcare bill.
And on Thursday morning, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) conceded that despite her efforts, she didn’t have the votes to pass the upper chamber’s bill “as-is.”
Though a number of hot-button provisions including creation of a government-run insurance plan and taxing so-called “Cadillac” health plans proved difficult to negotiate, restricting abortion funding for those on both sides of the issue appeared insurmountable.
As it is, the House-passed version of healthcare reform was approved by a razor-slim vote of 220-215. Only one Republican voted for the bill: Rep. Ahn “Joseph” Cao (La.) supported the measure due to the Stupak prohibitions on abortion coverage. Without that language, however, Cao has indicated he would likely oppose the bill.
With the recent resignation of Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), Pelosi could not afford to lose any other Democrats, which would be an unlikely outcome because of the abortion language, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins explained.
“She lost Cao (and Wexler) — she didn’t have the votes. And there were 37 Democrats who voted for the Stupak, who voted for the bill but have very strong pro-life records that I would be very surprised if you could get all 37 of them to vote for the Nelson language; you would probably have half of them peel off,” Perkins said in an interview late Friday.
Of those 37, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) indicated that at least 11 Democratic anti-abortion votes were in play.
Perkins said that without the phones calls, e-mails, rallies and “tea parties” on the part of the anti-abortion crowd, President Barack Obama’s healthcare bill would be law right now.
At an intimate gathering hosted by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in the Capitol Visitor Center for out-of-towners bused in to D.C. to participate in the March for Life, Perkins told a group of weary Ohioans that they helped to kill the measure.
“You stopped it, and you took a stand on the most principled aspect of the healthcare takeover initiative and that was stopping your fellow Americans from enforcement pay of an abortion, that one issue, more than any other, stopped, derailed what was attempted on the other end of the city,” Perkins said.
Rep. Mike Pence, currently being courted to run for Senate against incumbent Democrat Evan Bayh in Indiana, standing next to his fellow GOP colleagues on the National Mall, proclaimed to the anti-abortion activists that “life may be losing in Washington, D.C., but life is winning in America.”
The anti-abortion movement has grown to represent a majority of Americans for the first time in more than a decade, according to the Gallup organization.
Last summer, a Gallup poll taken in May 2009, 51 percent of respondents identified as “pro-life,” compared to 42 percent identifying as “pro-choice.”
In a similar poll of 1,006 respondents taken in July following the slaying of a Kansas doctor who performed late-term abortions, the number of individuals identifying as “pro-life” dropped to 47 percent but remained higher than the 46 percent “pro-choice” respondents.
But abortion-rights groups claim they have made progress in 2009, despite the controversial role abortion coverage has played in the healthcare debate.
The newly released annual NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation study on reproductive rights legislation and courts cases showed that 2009 was a “roller-coaster ride,” according to NARAL President Nancy Keenan.
Keenan conceded, however, that the anti-abortion interests “still outnumber our pro-choice allies.”
According to NARAL’s analysis of the current 111th Congress based on votes taken related to reproductive issues, the House has 185 “pro-choice,” 203 “anti-choice” and 47 “mixed-choice” lawmakers. In the Senate, the breakdown is 41 “pro-choice,” 40 “anti-choice” and 19 “mixed-choice” senators. Obama is rated “pro-choice,” while Vice-President Joe Biden is “mixed-choice.”
Those numbers leave activists in the abortions-rights arena uneasy and vowing to fight tooth-and-nail in the upcoming year.
National Organization for Woman President Terry O’Neill said that “in Washington, after months of debate over health care reform, we find ourselves wondering whether the leadership in Congress and the president we worked so hard to elect in 2008 will ultimately stand up to the Catholic Bishops and other extremists bent on dismantling Roe and reject their demands for sweeping anti-abortion provisions in the reform bill.”
Regardless, social conservatives such as Pence, a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, intend to press ahead with their fight to limit abortion rights.
Pence introduced a bill late Thursday that would repeal funding for reproductive health providers such as Planned Parenthood. The bill, referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee, has 92 co-sponsors.