The Perils of Single-Issue Politics

When the dust settled after Saturday night's House vote on Democrats' scheme to take over health care, an interesting back story came to light. It seems that pro-life groups won a battle only to lose a war.

Nov. 10, 2009

When the dust settled after Saturday night’s House vote on Democrats’ scheme to take over health care, an interesting backstory came to light. It seems that pro-life groups won a battle only to lose a war.

Rep. Bart Stupak, a pro-life Democrat from Michigan, fought for an amendment blocking federal funding for abortions through the public option. Stupak and other Democrats threatened to vote against Nancy Pelosi’s 1990-page health bill if it didn’t include these protections. So far, so good.

But that’s when it really got interesting. Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) urged Republicans to vote “present” on the amendment because, if it was included, Democrats were almost sure to get their majority and pass the whole bill. Shadegg had the right strategy in mind.

Unfortunately, pro-life groups did not. Several groups pressured Republicans not to vote “present.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops advised Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) against it, and the National Right to Life Committee warned that it would score such a vote the same as a “no” vote in its ratings. Republicans fell into line leaving Shadegg the lone “present” vote on Stupak’s amendment. “The simple fact is voting ‘present’ isn’t voting ‘no,’ no matter what Right to Life says,” he wrote. “Those who say a vote of ‘present’ is a ‘no’ vote are imitating Bill Clinton’s absurdity when he said that it depends on what the meaning of ‘is,’ is.”

As Mark Alexander pointed out two weeks ago, “In every successive Congress since 1995, conservative Arizona Republican Rep. John Shadegg has sponsored the Enumerated Powers Act (HR 1359), which requires that ‘Each Act of Congress shall contain a concise and definite statement of the constitutional authority relied upon for the enactment of each portion of that Act.’” Again, Shadegg saw the big picture while NRLC completely missed the forest for the trees – and hurt their own cause in the process.

In the end, Republicans may have preserved their spotless pro-life voting records, but there’s no guarantee Stupak’s amendment will survive in the Senate, or in conference. ObamaCare will almost inevitably lead to more abortions, not fewer. We always thought the goal of the pro-life movement was the opposite.

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