Stupak’s Viagra Is Health Bill Abortion Ban: Margaret Carlson

If I were a member of Congress (I know: God forbid. No letters, please), I would be opposed to any health-care dollars going to subsidize the purchase of Viagra. It’s just not fair that Viagra immediately won insurance coverage while birth-control pills remained largely uncovered.

Yet in spite of this manifest unfairness, I wouldn’t conjure the literary equivalent of an improvised explosive device and blow up the entire health-care bill over it.

Not so Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan, who’d never gotten so much attention as he has since he decided to make the health-care bill an abortion bill.

Democrats tiptoe around him asking themselves, “What Would Bart Do?” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shoehorned unnecessary provisions into the House version of the health-care bill to placate Stupak, who finds pro-abortion language in the Senate version where there is none. He’s threatening to torpedo health- care reform because of it and claimed to have a dozen Democrats in his posse.

To gauge just how off he is, I called the most pro-life of pro-life Democrats, Senator Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania. His father, Governor Bob Casey, also a staunch opponent of abortion, was ostracized by the party, barred from the podium at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.

The son didn’t fall far from the tree. He would not vote for a bill that funds abortions.

Pro-Life Provisions

With various provisions Casey got added to the Senate bill, including more help for adoption services, a hardening of language that prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions, and a strict segregation of premiums in the proposed insurance exchanges, the Senate bill “will reduce abortions,” Casey said.

It’s impossible to know what’s in Stupak’s heart. For certain, cameras, lights, and action are in his face since he began his crusade. He’s not used to the attention.

He’s from Michigan’s frigid, isolated Upper Peninsula, surrounded by three of the great lakes, a place, according to the Almanac of American Politics, that a local writer described as being in “slow, steady economic decline. We actually find it kind of charming.”

Stupak should be worrying about jobs, jobs, jobs, in that order. But he’s determined to find imaginary pro-abortion elements in the Senate bill, now under consideration by the House.

Reason to Dance

The Senate bill doesn’t require insurance exchanges to offer abortion coverage. Any state could ban all such coverage. States that permit coverage of abortions would have to, through a complicated process, make sure that no federal subsidies could possibly be spent on those procedures. It’s so onerous that any abortion coverage by private insurers may well end. Stupak should be dancing.

Instead, he prefers to makes up issues to keep the controversy going.

With no evidence, he blithely says covered preventive services, like pap smears and mammograms, could be broadened to include abortion. He claims that newly funded community health centers would provide abortion services, despite a half-century of evidence that they don’t.

He even complains about one of the pillars of pro-life political success, the Hyde Amendment, which he considers too permeable and impermanent to serve as the foundation for the new health-care system.

Pretty Permanent

Every year since 1976, Congress has re-approved the amendment, named for former Illinois Representative Henry Hyde, a bedrock anti-abortion Republican, to prevent federal funds in hundreds of programs from spilling over into abortion services. Something Congress has done every year for more than three decades is as permanent as life gets.

And as Casey points out, Stupak misses the point by concentrating on who pays. Abortion by its nature is as unplanned as the pregnancy it ends. Whether a woman has insurance coverage has no bearing on whether she finds herself in that predicament. The way to reduce the number of abortions is to fund reproductive-health programs, which Casey has also gotten into the bill Stupak won’t swallow.

With Casey’s backing, the health-care bill now has the support of a number of religious groups, including the Catholic Health Association, which represents more than 600 hospitals. I guess the Catholic bishops are still too busy publicly humiliating pro-choice members of Congress, by denying them communion, to be moved by these improvements.

Lots to Dislike

There are reasons not to love the Senate bill: payoffs to certain lawmakers, the concession to unions who want the “Cadillac” tax on generous plans delayed until eternity, even the use of reconciliation, although the repeated and inappropriate use of the filibuster makes that parliamentary procedure look benign.

Stupak complained to the National Review magazine that his party is “ignoring me.” It’s about time. That’s what happens to those who cry wolf for too long. Up until now, all the compromising has been done by the majority, the pro-choice members in the party, with Stupak making none and, indeed, coming up with new objections when his old ones are dealt with.

There’s a point at which even his friends wonder what he’s after. His Michigan colleague, Democrat Dale Kildee, just dropped out of Stupak’s posse. As the Stupak Dozen dwindles, he’s turning on his clique, accusing the dropouts of caving or just not wanting to be bothered anymore.

Stupak’s single-minded concentration on abortion coverage, seeing it where it doesn’t exist, brings to mind Barney Frank’s trenchant observation that conservatives believe life “begins at conception and ends at birth.”

(Margaret Carlson, author of “Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House” and former White House correspondent for Time magazine, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

Click on “Send Comment” in the sidebar display to send a letter to the editor.

To contact the writer of this column: Margaret Carlson in Washington at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this column: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.