It’s like you never left. How heated are emotions are either side of the abortion debate right now? Some pro-choice liberals have begun referring to the Stupak Amendment as the “Coat Hanger Amendment.” And Stupak himself has declared that if his language doesn’t make it into the Senate version or is altered in conference committee, “There will be hell to pay.”
Stupak immediately followed the threat by insisting, “I don’t say it as a threat.” He continued, however, “but if they double-cross us, there will be 40 people who won’t vote with them the next time they need us–and that could be the final version of this bill.” Which, of course, seems like the very definition of a threat. It’s unclear why altering the language of Stupak’s amendment in conference would be double-crossing him–Pelosi agreed to an up-or-down vote on his amendment; she didn’t, and couldn’t, promise that it would end up in the final version of health reform.
I’m also not sure that Stupak can count on 40 pro-life Democrats to oppose health reform in the final hour. The best estimates from House Whip James Clyburn–which match what I’m hearing from calling around–are that the Stupak amendment moved about ten Democrats who would otherwise have opposed health reform. Given the very small margin of victory, the Democratic leadership needed all ten. But it also looks likely–and I’ll have more on this later–that a compromise short of the Stupak amendment would have assuaged almost everyone but Stupak.
It’s worth noting as well that at least 40 pro-choice Democrats led by Congresswoman Diana DeGette have vowed to oppose a final version of health reform if it includes the Stupak language. I’ve talked to a lot of people this week who outright dismiss that possibility because “these are liberals–they want health reform. They won’t vote against it.” But that’s the same thing we heard for months about the Stupak coalition. “They’re just making noise. They’ll vote for it in the end.” And while, yes, some of those pro-life Democrats were also conservatives who opposed health reform–and voted against it anyway–on other grounds, many were Catholics who want health reform for social justice reasons.
Bottom line: this fight isn’t going away. Polls may show that voters care far more about the economy and other matters than social issues right now. But in Congress, decades of old wounds over abortion fights have been reopened.