Stupak Amendment a Victory
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
November 2009

As I write this month’s column, the U.S. House of Representatives has just passed major health care reform legislation, but not before first adding an important amendment ensuring that no public funds will be used for abortions. Members of both parties supported the amendment, but Representative Bart Stupak, a pro-life Catholic Democrat from Michigan, did most of the work. Rep. Stupak gathered about 40 like-minded Democrats who threatened to block the reform bill from coming to a vote unless they got a chance to vote on his amendment.

The passage of the Stupak Amendment was a huge victory for the pro-life movement and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. According to several news reports, the USCCB’s unwavering insistence that the Stupak Amendment receive consideration was key to getting the last-minute capitulation by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Hard lobbying by USCCB and the massive outpouring of support for the Stupak amendment by Catholics across the country made the difference.

Passage of the Stupak Amendment was only one step toward genuine health care reform that protects and serves all human life. More work remains. It’s passage, however, can provide some lessons for our immediate and long-term work.

  • A two-party pro-life strategy works. Without the pro-life Democrats Congress would not have got a chance to vote on the amendment. Without pro-life Republicans, we would not have prevailed on the vote.

  • Head’s up to pro-abortion rights Democrats - it’s not your party. When the Democratic leaders sought to build a majority party in the last round of elections, they reached out to pro-life and socially conservative Democrats. These Democrats had until few decades ago been a part of the party. Now they are back.

  • Some “liberal” Catholic groups argued that a true prohibition on abortion funding would never get through the House and that the bishops should accept the weaker Capps Amendment for the sake of reform. In the end, however, the Capps Amendment hindered, rather than helped the chances for reform.

  • Some “conservative” Catholic groups argued that the bishops’ effort was futile because the abortion-rights controlled leadership would never allow a vote on the Stupak Amendment. These groups argued that the bishops should do nothing less than oppose health care reform completely. They also claimed that Rep. Stupak and the USCCB staff could not be trusted and that they would eventually cave-in for the sake of reform. Like their counterparts on the left, they were wrong.

  • Phone calls, emails, and letters do make a difference. So do parish bulletins.

One other note about the Stupak Amendment needs sharing. Opponents claim that prohibiting federal programs from including abortion would cause North Dakota women to lose the abortion coverage they already have. This cannot be true. For at least thirty years, North Dakota law has prohibited all insurance policies from covering abortion except when the procedure is needed to save the life of the mother. The Stupak Amendment basically reflects the common sense approach embraced by North Dakotans that no one should be forced to pay for another person’s abortion.