Michele Walk, Associate Editor
Ideology: Moderate | Writing From: George Washington University

Last night, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress managed to push through a vote on their controversial health care plan. It wouldn’t have passed, however, without the Stupak Amendment, which barred federal funds from being used for abortions. Abortion is probably the most consistently debated and controversial topic of the last three decades, and the Democratic Congress paired it with the year’s most topical issue, health care reform. Federal funding for abortions has been banned since 1977 under the Hyde Amendment, yet abortion coverage continues to be an issue, and Democrats throughout Saturday afternoon pushed for government-funded abortions.

The so-called Stupak Amendment, proposed by Representative Bart Stupak, put the wording of the Hyde Amendment into the health care bill. The Hyde Amendment, first passed in 1977, is renewed every year and ensures that federal taxpayer dollars cannot be used to finance abortions, whether from Medicaid, Medicare, or other government-run health programs. The debate on the floor, however, made it clear that Democrats wanted to reverse that 32-year ban and require the American taxpayers to pay for elective abortions. Representative Barbara Lee of California was adamant that the Stupak Amendment was an affront to women’s “reproductive rights” – a clear indication that she believed the original version of Mrs. Pelosi’s bill provided federal money for abortions, and that she supported this. Abortion might be a legal procedure – but that doesn’t mean that the American taxpayers should be forced to pay for it, something which polls show they are opposed to.

Some Democrats in Congress, such as Rep. Lee, framed the issue as if barring federal funding for abortions would be depriving women of basic, life-saving care. However, a procedure that kills another human being is the antithesis of health “care.” Furthermore, the Stupak Amendment would allow federal funds to be used if the mother’s health were endangered by the pregnancy. Abortion is a preventable, elective procedure. Allowing federal taxpayer dollars to finance the procedure would only expand the prevalence of abortion, and considering that abortion often carries serious, life-long psychological and physiological after-effects, increasing the prevalence of abortion would not improve women’s health. Furthermore, if a woman feels that she desperately needs to have an abortion, she can do what women have been doing since 1973 and it her elective procedure on her own. However, in the debate, some Democrats framed the abortion issue as if it were akin to, say, a kidney transplant – but the vast majority of abortions are performed when the woman is not in danger and her life is not in danger. It is insulting to people with traditional ailments to compare their life-threatening, unpreventable conditions to the exceedingly-preventable abortion procedure. No other medical procedure is voluntary quite like abortion is.

Some pro-life Republicans opposed the Stupak Amendment, saying, to quote Arizona Representative John Shadegg, “this is a vote to help [Mrs. Pelosi] move the bill forward.” The bill narrowly passed at around eleven p.m. on Saturday with a vote of 220-215, with only one Republican, Joseph Cao of Louisiana, voting in favor of it, which is a clear breach of the Democratic Party’s promises for a truly bipartisan health care reform.

Would the health care reform have passed without the Stupak Amendment? It is possible that the health care bill would not have passed without it, for federal funding for abortions was a major concern of many pro-life Democrats. But the influence of those pro-life Democrats, and the importance of the abortion issue, is questionable. On Saturday afternoon Nancy Pelosi announced that she had garnered the requisite 218 votes – before the Amendment had passed. We will probably never know what the true influence of the Stupak Amendment was.

Where it was such a close vote, pro-life Congressmen – Republican and Democratic – were correct in not risking that “Pelosicare” would cover abortions. Rep. Shadegg was the only Congressman to vote “present” on the amendment – the only pro-life member of Congress to do so. Other Republicans were correct in supporting Stupak, and wisely recognized that they should seek victories where they can. It is important to note that Mrs. Pelosi’s reform is not law; the Senate still has to approve their version of the bill, and it is possible that the Stupak Amendment will be thrown out in committee. Still, the Stupak Amendment is a victory not only for Republicans against the Democrats’ increasingly liberal agenda, but more importantly a victory for America’s pro-life majority. Nancy Pelosi might have been successful in ramming through her controversial bill, but that doesn’t mean that the rights of the unborn have been forgotten.