Recovering from the Stupak Stumble: The People’s House and Abortion

Chuck Donovan /

Bart Stupak

Sunday’s partisan vote for health care legislation in the House signals the likely end of longtime cross-party cooperation among Members opposed to abortion. The last-minute collapse of the Stupak 7, pro-life Democrats who voted for the Stupak-Pitts abortion funding limitation amendment on November 7, 2009, as well as for the House bill passed that same day, made the Democratic leaders’ retreat on the Hyde Amendment bicameral. It followed the defections last December of Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Bob Casey (D-PA), who engineered much of the abortion language opposed by the National Right to Life Committee and other groups as “a political hoax.”

The Stupak Stumble follows the course of a long-term trajectory. For many years it has been nearly impossible for a Democrat with strong pro-life convictions to secure nomination to statewide federal office, much less the Presidency. Meanwhile, the number of pro-life Democrats in the U.S. House steadily declined for a generation, but there appeared to be a core group of more senior Members, led by Bart Stupak (D-MI) and other Midwest Democrats, that would hold out against the blandishments of the Democratic leadership. That illusion was all but shattered Sunday, as the latest in a series of piecrust promises, a Presidential executive order, was enough to cover the Stupak 7’s vote for a bill they had labeled “unacceptable” for months.