WASHINGTON (BP)–U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, an opponent of legalized abortion whose vote for the health care bill shocked and disappointed the nation’s major pro-life groups, announced Friday he was retiring and will not run for re-election this year.
The Michigan Democrat was a unique pro-lifer, liberal on many issues but a staunch opponent of abortion. He was a key ally of pro-life groups for much of his career and was even labeled a hero during the past year as he led a small band of Democrats who demanded that the health care bill include language explicitly prohibiting abortion coverage. But in the end he and most of the group’s members agreed to a compromise and supported the bill despite not getting the language they originally supported.
The bill, now law, changed longstanding federal policy by subsidizing health care plans that cover elective abortion.
Stupak’s position on abortion angered pro-choice groups — who were backing a pro-choice challenger to him in the Democratic primary — as well as pro-life groups, who were putting their weight behind a pro-life Republican opponent.
At a news conference Friday, Stupak championed the health care bill, saying he had “finally accomplished what I set out to do” when first elected 18 years ago. “We passed comprehensive national health care reform,” he said.
“[When first elected] I promised the people of the first district that I would not accept the insurance that members of Congress receive — the Federal Employees Health Benefit Package — until all Americans could have access to that same quality of care,” Stupak said, adding he was committing to helping Democrats keep the seat.
Ironically, though, Congress’ own insurance policy prohibits abortion coverage. Under the new health care law, individuals who receive federal subsidies can purchase insurance plans that cover elective abortions. The insurance company is required to segregate private money from federal money and not use the federal funds for abortion funding — something pro-choice groups call an accounting gimmick.
Family Research Council Action — which up until Stupak’s vote was an ally of his — began running radio ads on the abortion issue in his district Thursday criticizing his vote. FRC Action said it planned on spending $500,000 this year in the districts of 20 pro-life Democrats who voted for the bill. The Susan B. Anthony List, another pro-life group, said it was going to spend $150,000 to run ads in the districts of Stupak and other pro-life Democrats.
Stupak said he made his decision Wednesday after talking with his family Easter weekend.
“He’s the first of many victims of the health care reform vote,” Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press. “Bart Stupak was a pro-life Democrat representing a pro-life district. His switch made the difference in passing Obamacare. The White House has confirmed that. Without Stupak’s switch, Obamacare would not have passed.”
Land said Stupak “discovered that nobody likes a turncoat” and that he “decided to retire rather than be rejected by the voters in November, which they certainly would have done.”
Said Jane Abraham, Susan B. Anthony List general chairman, “As a national pro-life leader for many years, I have been proud of Bart Stupak for always standing on pro-life principles. I was deeply saddened by his recent decision to walk away from those principles and support federally funded abortion.
“With Rep. Stupak’s decision to retire,” Abraham added, “I look forward to aggressively working with a pro-life candidate in Michigan’s first district.”
Family Research Council Action President Tony Perkins offered similar thoughts.
“For two decades Rep. Bart Stupak stood firm for the pro-life cause,” Perkins said. “It is a shame that he will leave Congress remembered more for his vote on the Obama health care bill, the largest abortion promoting piece of legislation in the last 30 years.
“Rep. Stupak’s fall lies directly at the feet of the Democratic congressional leadership and President Obama, who pushed their support of government funding of abortion over the principles of pro-life Members of their own party,” Perkins said. “Although Rep. Stupak certainly is responsible for the decision he made to endorse the Obama plan, the severe demands his President and Party placed on him were untoward and unremitting.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.