I'm with Stupak redux

March 17, 2010

Will Rep. Bart Stupak and his gang of anti-abortion House Democrats derail health-insurance reform?

Stupak’s been talking tough and pushing for a deal
that would go farther in restricting abortion funding than the current
language of the Senate bill does. But the House leadership concluded that it can’t change the Senate’s abortion language via budget reconciliation, the only legislative way forward on reform. Amy Sullivan thinks this probably means the Catholic bishops will end up opposing the bill. Jonathan Cohn and Brian Beutler, however, aren’t sure negotiations are actually over yet.

Confused?
Expect plenty more of the same in the next few days as the vote
counting, calculated posturing and ambiguous reports continue.

The
substantive question is less of a moving target. Does the Senate bill
actually loosen current restrictions on federal abortion funding?

In a word: no. In a lot of words, this letter
from 25 Catholic and evangelical leaders—including some bona fide
pro-lifers—analyzes the bill and concludes that “longstanding
restrictions on federal funding of abortion have been maintained.” For
less activist-y takes, see Timothy Noah and David Gibson.

Meanwhile, Matt Miller reminds us
that this whole debate is about federal funding of abortion coverage
specifically for lower-income women. No one’s taking on the $250 billion
the government spends each year subsidizing the coverage that middle-
and upper-income women get through their employers. As usual, people
with more money (and more political power) stand to end up with more
rights. It’s the argument I made in December, after the first time Stupak dug in on this issue.

Last
time, the House leadership accommodated Stupak to ensure the bill’s
passage. The different rules that apply to the reconciliation process
make that harder to do this time around. If Stupak et al
don’t back down, and if it turns out the leadership doesn’t have the
votes, health-insurance reform could go down over a handful of
representatives’ incorrect belief that the bill fails to maintain the
status quo on restricting federal funding of abortion for the poor while
tolerating it for the rich.

With principled stands like this, who needs cynical politics?