Opinion: Healthcare reform takes first political victim as Bart Stupak retires


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No hyperbole, he really was the margin of victory. He paid a personal price, now a political one.

Bart Stupak, the 57-year-old Michigan Democrat whose antiabortion stance put him at the center of the fevered and partisan debate over healthcare reform, announced today that he’s leaving the congressional arena.


In a way he was the poster child for partisan anger, hit by death threats and abusive calls for his views on abortion. (See video below.)

When the measure first came before the House last fall, Stupak authored an amendment explicitly banning any use of federal funds for abortion. Liberal groups were livid, calling it ‘a direct attack on women’s right to make private healthcare decisions.’

Then, as the House considered the Senate version of the measure last month, pressure mounted and....

... Stupak’s life became, in his own words, ‘a living hell.’ Telephone lines in his Washington and Michigan offices were “jammed.” More than 1,500 faxes and countless e-mails came pouring into, most from outside his district. His wife was so discomforted by the abusive calls she stopped watching TV and disconnected the house phone lines. “People saying they’re going to spit on you and all this. That’s just not fun.”

To vote for abortion while honoring his Roman Catholic views, Stupak got President Obama to sign an executive order outlawing the use of federal funds for abortion services. But the order was just a presidential edict, without the force of law, and ‘tea party’ groups attacked.

What had been a living hell turned into a near-death experience. Calls grew even uglier. ‘There are millions of people across the country who wish you ill,’ says one caller, ‘and all of those thoughts that are projected on you will materialize into something that’s not very good for you.’

The nine-term congressman insists he is not being pushed out, noting that he has contemplated retirement before, but was persuaded to run by Washington’s veteran Democrats. No wonder. This Michigan district he represents is ripe for picking for the Republicans.

This year, Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to talk him into staying. But this time, he’s leaving.

And Republicans wasted no time in claiming credit.

“After selling his soul to Nancy Pelosi, it appears that Bart Stupak finally found the courage to tell her no,’ said Ken Spain, communications director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. ‘The political fallout over the Democrats’ government takeover of healthcare has put the political careers of many Democrats in jeopardy thanks in part to Stupak’s decision to abandon his alleged pro-life principles.’

-- Johanna Neuman

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