Key antiabortion Democrat retiring

After receiving threatening late-night calls at home and having the term “baby killer” shouted as he spoke on the House floor, Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan on Friday became perhaps the most prominent casualty of the healthcare debate, announcing that he will retire from Congress.

His announcement added to the problems of Democrats fearful of losing their majority in the November midterm election.

Conservative groups claimed credit for forcing the retirement of Stupak, an antiabortion Democrat whose last-minute support helped cinch House passage of the healthcare overhaul.

Stupak’s retirement “shows the power of the tea party movement,” said Bryan Shroyer, political director of Tea Party Express, which was in Stupak’s district organizing rallies against him.

Stupak’s northern Michigan district was immediately moved into the toss-up category by political handicappers. “Expect a free-for-all,” Charlie Cook wrote on the website of his nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

The House GOP’s campaign committee issued a fundraising appeal declaring Stupak “the first political casualty of ObamaCare.” But Stupak said he was worn out by the long hours of travel between Washington and his sprawling district in northern Michigan.

“I’m young enough. I’m at the crossroads in my life, where I can do other things. I look forward to those new challenges,” Stupak, 58, said at a news conference at Northern Michigan University, with his wife, Laurie, at his side. “It’s time for me to make the break.”

He denied that threatening “3-o’clock-in-the-morning phone calls” to his home were much of a factor, saying, “That’s people outside my district.” He said that passage of the healthcare bill, a goal of his since he was first elected to the House in 1992, made his retirement decision easier.

Stupak, a former state trooper who chairs the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, has led congressional inquiries on high-profile issues, including Toyota’s sudden-acceleration problems and health insurance rate hikes.

Stupak came under withering attack from both sides during the emotional healthcare debate.

At one point, Texas Republican Rep. Randy Neugebauer shouted “it’s a baby killer” while Stupak was speaking. Later, Neugebauer said he had apologized to Stupak for his outburst, which drew a rebuke from the chair. Neugebauer issued a statement saying he was not referring directly to Stupak but to the agreement that the Michigan Democrat helped work out with the White House.

President Obama, in order to win the Stupak-led bloc of antiabortion Democrats, signed an executive order restating a policy barring the use of federal funds to pay for most abortions. But antiabortion groups called the order inadequate.

Abortion-rights groups also were angry with Stupak over his efforts to include tougher abortion restrictions in the healthcare bill. They were backing a Democratic primary challenge to the incumbent.

The National Republican Congressional Committee said Stupak’s retirement “gives us another ‘highly likely’ pick-up opportunity, freeing up valuable resources for other Republican challengers running against Democrat incumbents in other districts.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, head of the House Democrats’ campaign committee, expressed confidence his party would hold onto the seat.