Stupak: Aberration or Power Outage in the Pro-Choice Movement?


The
Stupak amendment, which robs women of insurance coverage for abortion, has
caused all of us to mobilize to redress the damage done by this historic
assault on a woman’s right to choose. While this campaign should be our
immediate focus for the coming weeks, it should not prevent us from analyzing the
factors that brought us to this debacle in the first place.

A few
provocative questions come immediately to mind. For starters, how does a pro-choice
President and pro-choice House leadership end up moving a bill that seriously
undermines a woman’s legal right to abortion? Has the political arm of the
pro-choice movement been so co-opted by the Democratic Party that the
pro-choice constituency is not just being taken for granted, but being taken to
the cleaners on key legislative issues?

Has the
refusal of pro-choice leaders to hold anti-choice Democrats accountable during
primaries earned the movement the dreaded “paper tiger” label thus broadcasting a clear message that you can attack
pro-choice policies in congress without suffering any real political
consequences?

Has the
decision of pro-choice leaders to acquiesce, implicitly or explicitly, with the
decision of Democrats after the 2004 elections to vigorously recruit
anti-choice candidates to build the Catholic “brand” within the party, set us on
the inevitable path towards marginalization?

While
there may be some argument on the “yeas and nays” of these questions, the disastrous
240-194 vote on Stupak signaled profound dysfunction in pro-choice vision,
leadership, strategies and tactics. Folks, this wasn’t just a wake-up call, it
was a defining moment.

The
pro-choice leadership seems to believe that it has an identity of interests
with the Democratic Party. This is a mistake. While interests intersect, when
it is politically expedient Democrats will throw the abortion issue under the
bus. The events of the past few weeks constitute a case study.

The job
of pro-choice leadership and the organizations they run is to advocate for an
issue. Their role is not to run “interference” for Democrats on the Hill,
forever shielding them from tough votes and excusing their legislative retreats
and fallbacks on key positions. Their job is to advance reproductive rights and
justice by holding Democrats accountable to their pro-choice principles,
helping to elect pro-choice candidates to congress and defeat anti-choice candidates for congress.

It is
also the job of pro-choice leadership to authentically engage grassroots
supporters. Yet at times our leadership has held up grassroots organizing and
protest for fear of alienating Democratic leadership. At other times, the
leadership offers assurances that it supports goals like the repeal of the Hyde
amendment but it won’t invest any of its political capital in trying to make
progress achieving that goal. There is a serious disconnect between the
Washington pro-choice policy agenda and the vision of the pro-choice movement,
and until that gap is addressed our political power will continue to be
diminished.

I believe
pro-choice leaders may have made a fatal mistake in not challenging the
Democrats’ 2004 decision to recruit and run anti-choice candidates. They believed
Democratic leadership when they were told that the pro-choice agenda would not
be undermined by these newly elected anti-choice Democrats because Democratic
leaders in the House and Senate would “have their backs” on policy issues.

Well, so
much for political assurances. Pro-choice leaders must now recognize that they
have fallen victim to a classic “bait and switch” with Democrats telling
pro-choice advocates they couldn’t save them from Stupak because they just
didn’t have the votes. Gee, wonder why? Couldn’t have anything to do with all
those anti-choice Democrats elected since 2004 could it?

And on
the paper tiger front, I wonder why the Stupak amendmentthe only amendment that gored a major democratic constituency—was allowed on the floor? The “blue dogs” had the
votes for so-called tort reform, capping medical malpractice awards, but we
didn’t see that amendment. Did we? Maybe it’s
because the trial lawyers would have yanked
every cent from Democratic candidates and leadership committees the next day.
Nope, don’t want to give the shaft to the trial lawyers; they might actually do
something about it!

And what
about the public option? The blue dogs had the votes to mess with the
compromise on the public option, but did we see that amendment on the floor?
Hell no. Labor would have announced its support for primary challenges on the
spot. Oh, and they would follow through, too.

It
appears labor and the trial lawyers haven’t forgotten the advocate’s dictum as
expressed by Frederick Douglass: “Power yields nothing without a demand. Never
has. Never will. “

I guess
the current pro-choice equivalent would be: “Don’t worry. We’ll cover for you”.

Honestly,
in retrospect is it really any wonder that family planning was the first thing
to be thrown overboard during the stimulus
debate? Or that the Democratic leadership of the House Foreign Affairs
Committee jettisoned the reproductive health integration components of the $15
billion PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) initiative because they were too “controversial”?

Given
this track record, Stupak looks less and less like an aberration and more like
an inevitable consequence of a power outage in the pro-choice movement.

After the
rallies, emails and phone calls to overturn Stupak, let the reassessment begin.

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  • liberaldem

    What particularly concerns me is that family planning was thrown under the bus during the stimulus debate. If we are serious about enabling women and families to make the best decisions for themselves about whether and when they want to have children, then access to all methods of contraception is a must-it is non-negotiable.

    I’m very disturbed, too, that President Obama and/or his advisors seem to believe that they can take the pro-choice communit for granted.

  • colleen

    First, thank you for this excellent analysis.

    Has the decision of pro-choice leaders to acquiesce, implicitly or explicitly, with the decision of Democrats after the 2004 elections to vigorously recruit anti-choice candidates to build the Catholic “brand” within the party, set us on the inevitable path towards marginalization?

    I believe that the decision of the Democratic leadership to vigorously recruit anti-choice candidates and abrogate their representation of those of us who have been on the firing line in the culture wars was made long before 2004.
    Indeed, 2004 was the year that we had Bob Casey foisted upon us and also the year that the Democrats attempted to recruit anti-choice Langevin for the senate. They DID recruit him and it was only after Langevin dropped out of the race that he was replaced with the excellent Whitehouse.
    I don’t know why the Democratic leadership and strategists have embarked on this path but I have noticed that the DLC and so-called ‘third way’ Democrats have gone out of their way to marginalize and ridicule the party’s base voters. While I am thankful to see that ‘centrist’ Democrats have stopped babbling on about ‘latte sipping liberal elites’ and blaming their base for their own suicidal strategy and equally bad governance I must say that the poorly defined, emotionally manipulated, right wing religiousity of so called ‘common ground’ (and the Stupak amendment is a perfect example of what ‘centrists’ mean by ‘common ground’) really won’t sell any better.
    For starters, pro-choice voters need to refuse to vote for anti-choice candidates, refuse to donate to or support any organization that supports anti-choice candidates including the DNC (and the current chair is a walking insult to women and ineffectual to boot).

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • progo35

    “For starters, pro-choice voters need to refuse to vote for anti-choice candidates, refuse to donate to or support any organization that supports anti-choice candidates including the DNC.”

    Please, be my guest. Either that will completely undermine the Democratic party and therefore make the Republican party stronger or it will simply result in more support who refuse to two their party’s line on abortion.

    "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • lon-newman

    James, we don’t really want to see that we are responsible for the mess that we have gotten into . . . There’s a famous quote that "The unexamined life is not worth living . . ." but the examined one isn’t exactly a cake walk, either.

     

    Thanks for holding up the mirror for all of us to see more clearly.

  • crowepps

    Either that will completely undermine the Democratic party and therefore make the Republican party stronger

     

    You are presuming that the only choices people have are members of these two parties.  Only 36% of voters identify themselves as Democrats, and only 27% as Republicans, which means that there is a third larger block of voters who don’t identify with either party.  Maybe both parties will undermine themselves to the point where we a viable third and fourth party will emerge.  Don’t have many Whigs or members of the Toleration Party around these days.

  • hekate

    Wouldn’t that be nice to have more than two viable parties? Maybe politicians would actually have to, you know, do something productive during their terms. Perhaps the defining issue wouldn’t be whether women have rights or not! That might be too hopeful, however.

  • crowepps

    If there were some process for dividing up congressional districts that avoided the problem of ‘safe’ districts that guarantee a win by either Republicans or Democrats, we might get somewhere.

     

    The defining issue of whether women have rights or not is a great distraction, isn’t it?  After all, while everybody is arguing about whether 10-year old girls should be forced to bear Dad’s baby or die trying and rapists have a guarantee to reproductive rights, the 50,000 American deaths and injuries paid for the creation of the American Oil Empire in the Middle East or the escalating transfer of wealth to the 2% in the Plutocracy isn’t getting much attention.

  • colleen

    Either that will completely undermine the Democratic party

    You’re confused. I don’t wish to see the Democratic party or, for that matter, my country become the irrational, corrupt and genuinely frightening cesspool the GOP has become since it allowed the religious right to undermine it so completely.

     

     

     

     

     

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • terry-cosgrove

    Yes! our only job is to elect pro-choice candidates and defeat anti-choice candidates, regardless of political party.  Period.  If we do this well enough, the rest will fall into place quite nicely. Because in the end, all elected officials are "pro-life" — their own political life. No issue in this country has ever been settled without broad bipartisan support. I sincerely doubt that a woman who has been raped or a woman who has her health threatened by carrying a pregnancy to term really cares that it was a Democrat or Republican who voted to deny her access to a safe and legal abortion.  Let’s get to work electing real pro-choice candidates and sending these anti-choice elected officials into retirement as soon as possible.  We don’t have much time to waste folks.    

  • margaret-conway

    As a long time leader in the movement, you have a rare perspective on what is going on.  I am glad you tied together the stimulas debacle and Stupak.  The idea that either family planning or abortion is now seen as radioactive by the Dems is ludicrous–and frightening.  I would add to this analysis the point when the President threw Hyde under the bus during his big health reform speech, with nary a peep from leaders in our movement.  I believe that had their been an outcry then–or at SOME point in this fight–perhaps we wouldn’t be dealing with Stupak right now.  

     

    Women should be taking a cue from the LGBT movement and pulling their $$ from the DNC, publicly boycotting their dinners, etc. Hit em where it hurts and we’ll seem some quicker results.