Conservatives Hurting Pro-Life Effort

April 12, 2010

The way that many conservative pro-life groups reacted to the health care reform debate actually hurt the efforts of the pro-life movement. They allowed their opposition to health care reform and their loyalty to the Republican Party to trump the life issue. Despite what one might think of the health care bill, the fact is that it does not allow any new funding for abortions (see article here for an explanation). Although there were problems with some of the initial versions of the legislation when it came to potential abortion funding, pro-life politicians in both parties worked to change the legislation. Of course, pro-life Republicans supported changes but not the overall legislation while pro-life Democrats supported the changes and the overall legislation. That should not be surprising since one can unite on areas of commonality without needing to agree on all issues. However, some conservative pro-life groups seemed to conflate their opposition to health care reform with their opposition to abortion. Thus, whenever a committed pro-life Democrat decided to vote for health care reform, that politician was denounced by conservative pro-life groups. The pattern repeated itself with Senators Bob Casey and Ben Nelson and then with Representative Bart Stupak. What conservatives forgot was that these politicians were not allies in the cause against health care reform. Rather, these were politicians who wanted to vote for health care reform, but only after working to prevent new abortion funding.

The problem is that by condemning these pro-life politicians as anti-life because of the health care vote, the conservative pro-life groups are hurting the overall movement. They are basically saying that the pro-life movement must be a conservative Republican movement. For instance, Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum claimed the health care vote exposed "the myth of the 'pro-life Democrat.'" That claim probably comes as quite a shock to the individual pro-life Democrats and the organization Democrats for Life. FRC Action and other conservative pro-life groups are raising money to spend this fall in hopes of defeating some of the pro-life Democrats who voted for health care reform. There are hundreds of liberal pro-choice congresspeople, but FRC Action is spending its time and money on trying to defeat 20 pro-life Democrats! Such an effort will hurt the pro-life movement. If pro-life Democrats are driven out of office, the pro-life movement will be reduced to being merely a wing of the Republican Party. Then it will be no stronger that the Republican Party and will see its fortunes rise and fall with that Party. However, if pro-life Democrats are encouraged and supported--despite important and strong disagreements on other issues--then the movement will always be stronger than any one political party and could therefore exert real change. After all, if it were not for pro-life Democrats, the Republicans would not have had enough votes to make any of the abortion-related changes to the health care legislation.

Sadly, in a quest to fight health care reform, conservative pro-life groups have even completely flip-flopped in their rhetoric. Rather than praise Stupak for getting President Barack Obama to issue an executive order reiterating that the legislation did not fund abortion (his executive order did not actually ban it since the legislation already did that), they instead attacked the idea of executive orders. However, these are the same groups that praised President George W. Bush for issuing pro-life executive orders! Representative Stupak noted the National Right to Life's hypocrisy on this issue.

With the retirement announcement last Friday of Stupak--perhaps the most public face of the pro-life Democrats under attack from conservative pro-life groups--the numbers of pro-life Democrats are likely to shrink after this fall's election. Stupak was one of those being targeted by FRC Action, the TEA Party Express, and others. Ironically, this meant that pro-life groups were joining pro-choice groups in trying to remove him from office (FRC Action was planning to spend $500,000 on ads against him). Some, like the Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land, are claiming that Stupak is leaving because he knew he would lose this fall (of course, Land has a horrible record of political predictions). Such claims, however, bear little resemblance to the facts. Serious political analysts saw Stupak's reelection as safe. After all, he has won the seat nine times, easily survived his first reelection effort during the Republican landslide year of 1994, and has received more than 65% of the vote in each of the last four elections. Instead, Stupak seems to be tired of the travel and the partisanship. With pro-life leaders calling him a "traitor" and "pro-death," his desire to stay in Washington politics surely dampened in recent weeks. If conservative pro-life groups help defeat other pro-life Democrats this fall, it will be the pro-life movement that loses.

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