I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Anti-abortion activists target Democrats for health care votes
When former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) got handily booted out of office by Democratic challenger Betsy Markey in the 2008 elections, she vowed to have her revenge. Musgrave donated $50,000 from her defunct campaign fund to the “Young Leaders” training program, a tax-exempt initiative of the Susan B. Anthony List, the anti-abortion group that happened also to be her new employer.
Musgrave started building a new war chest, this time for the SBA List’s “Votes Have Consequences” initiative to target legislators on issues relating to abortion. In a May 2009 fundraising letter, she pledged that the new effort would “spread the truth about [Democrats’] destructive agendas, drag down their approval ratings, force them to publicly defend socialism, authoritarian gun-grabbing, gay marriage, infanticide and everything else they vote for in Washington, and ultimately, on November 2, 2010 … take their jobs away from them.”
Now, during the campaign season for the 2010 midterm elections, Musgrave is taking the fight to the streets. Yesterday, the SBA List launched a bus tour through 23 cities in the battleground states of Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Traveling on the “Votes Have Consequences Express,” Musgrave and others are publicizing vulnerable Democrats’ support of the comprehensive health care reform bill — and arguing the new law will funnel taxpayers’ money into coverage for abortions, even though legal scholars, health care analysts and even some Republican politicians say the law does no such thing.
Banking on the ability of the abortion issue to rile social conservatives in the Rust Belt, anti-abortion activists are still pillorying pro-life Dems for allegedly authorizing federal funding for abortion coverage. “When you look at these districts, more than three-quarters of the voters say they oppose tax payer-funded abortion,” says Musgrave. “We’re going to make sure that even more pro-life voters know about the duplicity and betrayal on the part of their members of Congress.”
The roots of the anti-abortion movement’s misgivings with health care reform go back to last fall. In the winter, a bloc of pro-life Democrats led by outgoing Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) threatened not to vote for the bill unless they received assurances that no taxpayer dollars would fund abortions, except in circumstances delineated by the Hyde Amendment — to save the life of the mother, or in the case of rape or incest. During the Stupak bloc’s negotiations with Democratic leadership, groups like the SBA List pressured the lawmakers to vote no.
“In January, the SBA List did a tour called ‘Women Speak Out: Abortion is NOT Health Care,’” explains Paula Westwood, the executive director of Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati, which collaborates with the SBA List. “The whole intent was to encourage [pro-life Dems] to stand firm and stay the course and not vote for the bill as it was written.”
The pro-life Dems did end up receiving further assurances — a Senate amendment by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) that prohibits insurance companies from using new federal subsidies to cover the cost of abortion coverage, as well as an executive order from President Obama reiterating that the existing Hyde Amendment limits would still apply. Furor over the bill’s passage and confusion surrounding its complexity, however, let the issue become major fundraising grist for anti-abortion advocates.
“This administration and this Congress is being more hostile and challenging the pro-life position and values than any time since Roe vs. Wade,” Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) told a crowd of supporters at a fundraiser in Washington soon after the health care reform bill’s passage. At the event, donors gave up to $100,000 to the SBA List.
But how are anti-abortion advocates arguing health care reform allows taxpayer dollars to go to the procedure, despite Obama’s executive order and Nelson’s amendment? Groups like SBA List are taking pains to point out that the president’s order — meant to clarify any ambiguity in the new law and guide the agencies as they draw up regulations pertaining to it — could theoretically be rescinded, nor does it carry the weight of law.
“Even pro-life advocates recognized that it was a symbolic gesture,” Westwood says. Yesterday, she told a crowd in Cincinnati: “This executive order idea is further proof that Democratic leadership knows federally funded abortion is in the bill, though they have denied it all along.”
As for Nelson’s amendment, anti-abortion advocates describe the language as an “accounting gimmick” and not a stringent-enough ban. The provision prohibits insurers from using federal subsidies to cover the actuarial costs of abortions. If women want to purchase coverage for abortions, they need to pay for it themselves into a separate account. Groups like SBA List say this is an “accounting gimmick” — though the gimmick is designed precisely so that the federal funds are siloed from abortion coverage.
“That’s kind of a back door way to say you can have this option to do it,” Westwood says, in reference to the Nelson amendment. “I think that that’s a lot of semantics. It’s still part of the plan that people can have abortions — you just purchase two [plans]. We’re talking about people who cannot afford insurance so obviously [the government’s] going to make it possible to get it in some way.”
Such claims could not be further from the truth, according to Timothy Jost, a health law expert and Washington and Lee University law professor. “I don’t think it’s confusion [that’s driving them],” he notes. “I think that the groups that are doing this have a political agenda and it’s a partisan political agenda and they’re not particularly interested in the truth. What they want to do is to elect Republicans.”
Musgrave and the SBA List, however, have never deviated from their insistence that the new health care measure will find ways to direct untold amounts of federal assistance to abortion coverage, even when Republicans have indicated their satisfaction on the issue and the new regulations around the law.
“It appears the rule includes a strong prohibition on federal coverage of abortion,” Jessica Straus, spokeswoman for Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) told Kaiser Health News about the latest regulations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services. John Hart, a spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), agreed: “Dr. Coburn is pleased [Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius is taking to heart our concerns that the health care law will fund abortion.”
The SBA List nonetheless continues to attack politicians for indicating they are satisfied the bill does not does not fund abortions. For instance, the Votes Have Consequences Express bus tour is planning on beating up on Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), a self-avowed pro-life Democrat.
Kaptur’s Republican challenger, Rich Iott, is thrilled the SBA List is stopping over in Ohio’s ninth district to criticize the incumbent. “We welcome it and all the attention that’s going to be brought upon Marcy Kaptur on the life voting issue and her less-than-perfect record on it,” says Matt Parker, Iott’s spokesman.
As for Musgrave, she appears happy to be leading the charge to try to kick out moderate Democrats like the one that unseated her just two short years before. “Sadly these members did not respond to their constituents and their overwhelming opposition to tax payer funded abortions,” she says cheerily. “It will have consequences — very big consequences.”
The bus, which Musgrave describes as a “rolling billboard,” is “going to attract a lot of attention. Just wait until you see it. It’s going to be very easy, let’s just say, to see who chose to support the largest expansion of abortion since Roe vs. Wade.”