Rep. Bart Stupak warns that if language restricting abortion funding is not included in healthcare reform legislation, it will be very difficult to reverse the situation in the future.
Stupak, 57, is a Catholic and a pro-life Democrat. Elected in 1992 to serve Michigan’s First District (consisting of the state’s upper peninsula and northern counties of the lower peninsula), he is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
During the week of Sept. 14, he vowed to vote against the House health-care reform bill (H.R. 3200) if he is not allowed to offer a “more explicit” ban on federal funding for plans that cover abortion services.
Stupak spoke with Register correspondent Joan Frawley Desmond Sept. 23 as the Senate Finance Committee took up legislation on health-care reform.
You promised to oppose the House bill if it doesn’t contain a “more explicit” ban on federal funding for abortion coverage. Where does the legislative process stand now?
I spoke to President Obama last week. Since we’ve been back this week, I’ve spoken with the House leadership and those who support abortion in the public option. They all want to talk now. We do see some movement, but there has been no change in the language.
How would you assess the U.S. bishops’ effort to advance pro-life concerns in the legislative process?
The USCCB has been very effective. We have worked together to bring this to the forefront. If we reach a resolution that includes an explicit ban on an abortion mandate and federal funding, and the bishops are able to come out in favor of health-care reform, that will help members of Congress and the public understand the need for health-care benefits in this country. I would hope the bishops would bring some clarity to the debate on end-of-life issues and help seniors realize that preventive testing will be 100% covered.
The Church has subtle ways for bringing forth support for legislation that is outside the scope of politicians like myself. My pastor in Michigan had a scriptural reflection in the parish bulletin that brought a different perspective to health-care reform. ... The rich thought they were more deserving, but Jesus spent time feeding the poor and healing the sick.
We are all God’s children, and when we talk about health care, we have to ask: “Are we taking care of our own concerns, or are we looking at the poor and the sick, our brothers and sisters who don’t enjoy the same benefits?”
You knew it would be a tough fight to keep abortion benefits and financing out of health-reform legislation. What has been your strategy?
I knew the Energy and Commerce Committee vote [on federal funding for abortion] would be close. In appropriations bills, we have had the Mexico City language and the Dornan language in place for a number of years. But this year, when we tried to put the right-to-life amendments in the appropriation bills, we lost every time.
Normally, when we go to the Rules Committee, we’d have a vote on the House floor. This is the first year the Rules Committee hasn’t allowed us any pro-life amendment.
If it becomes law, H.R. 3200 [as it is now written] will be the health policy for the United States. The policy regarding public funding for abortion will no longer be found in annual appropriations bills, but in H.R. 3200. That means public funding for abortion will be allowed — and under public options: At least one dollar of your money will go to supplement reproductive rights or abortion services.
Are you still hopeful that the right language can be inserted into the bill?
We still have to go to the House Rules Committee. There we will ask that the Hyde Amendment be put into the health-care bill. Since none of the right-to-life amendments have been allowed, I don’t have much hope this will happen.
President Obama has repeatedly insisted that he opposes any federal funding of abortion as part of health-care reform legislation. What role is he likely to play now?
When the president spoke to the nation on health care, he said that in “my legislation” there will be no public funding of abortions. The problem is the president hasn’t submitted a plan.
The way the health-care legislative process has been developed, neither the Senate nor the House bill will go anywhere without the approval of the president. He will insert his demands into the process. The final bill is really the bill we have to worry about. When I talked to the president the other day on this issue, he assured me that when he spoke to the American people he was expressing his plan that there will be no abortion funding — if Congress cannot resolve it before it reaches him.
What the president wants me to do is to continue to work with his legislative team. The Democrats in the House should work this out, so he’s not making a final decision. I have meetings with the Catholic bishops and other Catholic groups to see if there is some avenue we can still explore.
What kind of support have you received from Senate Democrats?
There are a number of right-to-life senators, including Sen. Ben Nelson [of Nebraska], who are also working on this. But we’re in the early stages; this is where the intense negotiations take place. Last week, 30 of us in the House said, “Give us the Hyde Amendment or we’re voting against the rule.” We believe we have enough members, even pro-choice members, who feel we need the Hyde Amendment. They do not think we should use public money. We’re early in the process, but we’re keeping the pressure on to make sure there is no public funding and an abortion mandate.
Joan Frawley Desmond writes
from Chevy Chase, Maryland.