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Why I wrote the 'Stupak amendment' and voted for health-care reform

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By Bart Stupak
Saturday, March 27, 2010

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?"

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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.

Last November, an amendment I introduced succeeded in making sure the House health-care-reform bill contained the current law prohibiting public funding for abortions. I was disappointed that the Senate could not pass my language and only mustered 45 pro-life votes, far short of the 60 votes needed to keep the amendment intact.

Many of my Democratic pro-life colleagues and I worked tirelessly in the days leading up to the final House vote on health-care reform to strengthen the legislation's restrictions on abortion funding. We proposed numerous procedural and legislative options, but ultimately all of our efforts required the 60 votes we could not obtain in the Senate.

Once it was clear that the House leadership would eventually obtain the 216 votes necessary to pass health-care reform, I was left with a choice: Vote against the bill and watch it become law with no further protections for life or reach an agreement that prevents federal funding for abortions.

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 have said from the start that my goal was to see health-care reform pass while maintaining the long-standing principle of the sanctity of life. The president's executive order upholds this principle and current law that no federal funds be used for abortion. I and other pro-life Democrats are pleased that we were able to hold true to our principles and vote for a bill that is pro-life at every stage of life and that provides 32 million Americans with access to high-quality, affordable health care.

The writer is a Democratic representative from Michigan.


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