Stupak On The Stupak Amendment

Rep. Bart Stupak's (D-MI) abortion amendment, which passed Saturday night just before the House approved its comprehensive health care reform legislation, has set off a firestorm of criticism from pro-choice lawmakers and interest groups, and it's being viewed as a coup for pro-lifers in Congress.

In an interview today, Stupak said his amendment does nothing more than apply current abortion law (the annually renewed Hyde amendment) to health care reform, that pro-choicers are "distorting the hell" out of it, that he's confident his language will be included in the Senate bill, and that pro-choice Democrats have only themselves to blame for its passage on the House floor Saturday night.

The amendment itself (which you can read here) prohibits federal subsidies from being used to purchase insurance plans that cover elective abortions, on any of the regional exchanges set up under the House bill for low-income individuals, and other Americans who don't have access to coverage to shop for health insurance. It specifies that subsidized individuals can purchase supplemental coverage, out of pocket, that covers abortions. It does not restrict coverage of abortions in the case of rape, incest, or saving a woman's life.

What follows is a lightly edited transcript of an interview with Rep. Stupak today.

Why did you think it was necessary to include this language, stronger language than what Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) [whose own abortion provision would have ensured plans on the exchanges that both do and do not cover elective abortions] had come up with?

Because Capps, in three ways, for the first time ever, legitimizes abortion as a federal policy. Number one, in each exchange you must have plans that offered abortion. Number two, for the first time ever, federal money is going to pay for abortions. Number three, on pages of the bill they actually had one dollar per month per enrolllee in the public option going to reproductive rights including abortions, so there are three drastic changes from current law. Current law, which is my amendment--it's the Hyde language--says no public funding for abortion, no public funding for health insurance policies that provide for abortion coverage.

This has been an emotional issue for some of your Democratic colleagues. Were you surprised at all at how strong the reaction was from some of the members against your amendment?

No. They've been fighting me since July on this. My reaction is that they are saying that no insurance policies will be able to sell abortion coverage, and that is not true. All the members have to do is look at their update that they got from the majority leader, Steny Hoyer [D-MD], that he sent to us about three minutes before 10 [o'clock Saturday night], before we voted on the amendments. Basically, he said, 'Look, the Stupak amendment is the Hyde amendment. You can't use federal funds to pay for abortions. However, you can get supplemental coverage, and it does not prevent private insurance companies from selling elective abortion coverage.' I think the only surprise I have is how much they've mischaracterized the amendment, even after their own majority leader report that we all get before we vote clearly states the purpose of the amendment and shows it's not greater than current law, so all this about taking away women's rights, restricting it--it's no different from the restrictions right now.

The statistic that opponents of your amendments point to when they make that argument is an estimate that 80 percent of people who are in the exchange will be receiving subsidies, and so it would effectively lead private insurers to not offer elective abortion coverage.

Not true.

Not true?

Read the amendment. Even people who receive federal subsidies after they buy a policy, if they want to buy a supplemental insurance, like current law is right now, they still can. They're not restricted because they receive federal funding, they just can't use our federal funds to buy that coverage. If you want to reach into your pocket after that and buy the further coverage, you're allowed to. Federal law right now, federal employees, the Department of Defense, Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, Indian Health Service--none of them can use their federal funds to pay for an abortion. That's always been the law, and we go no further.

If you're extending the federal law and federal subsidies into other areas of health care, then the current law on abortion should apply. There is no greater restriction placed on anyone. If you have a policy and you receive federal subsidy, and if you want to buy abortion coverage, you can. It says very clearly: supplemental policies, you're free to do it, you've just gotta use your own money. States do it right now. They put up their matching share on Medicaid. They can't use their state funds when they use the matching share, they can't take money out of there, but they can dip into another state pot, and 11 states do that and provide abortion coverage. That doesn't change. None of that changes.

NPR has a site that says nothing changes, PolitiFact has a site that says the Stupak language doesn't change anything, it's current law.

I understand it was a fight to get the vote on this amendment. What was it like dealing with leadership on this? Did things ever get contentious between you and the pro-life members of the Democratic caucus and the Democratic leaders?

Well that's how we got our amendment, because Speaker Pelosi went to present what she agreed to with us, that it would be part of a manager's amendment. There should have never been an amendment. There never should have been a vote on this. We had agreed to put it in a manager's amendment, which would have been less than what I actually got--Hyde-lite as I call it, Hyde language lite--and it was the pro-choice people that rejected it.

They're the ones--and I've been saying all along, all I want to do is vote on my conscience, let the will of the House work its way--they're the ones who insisted, 'No, Stupak doesn't get to go in the manager's amendment, we want it on the floor.' They're the ones who insisted on bringing it to a vote. They're the ones who wanted to vote against me, they were the ones who said they would win this vote. Now they lose, and now they're distorting the hell out of the amendment. That's the part that bothers most of us. They're the ones who wanted the amendment. We had an agreement with the Speaker. They rejected it, and then they took it to the floor and they lost, and now suddenly I'm the bad person.

So if they hadn't fought you at that stage...

If they hadn't rejected the Speaker on Friday night, to use their words, there would have been a less restrictive amendment that would have been part of the manager's amendment. They rejected that. They could not live with it. Even the less restrictive language. And therefore the Speaker came back and said, 'Bart, I'm sorry, but our deal's off. So I have no choice, because we made an agreement, I'm gonna have to give you an amendment,' and I said, 'Well, with all due respect, Madame Speaker, I'm not gonna send the amendment we agreed to, because if the deal's off, then I don't have to hold to that agreement, Hyde-lite, and I'm putting up the original Hyde language that I offered in committee, that Joe Pitts and I offered.' That's why it's called the Stupak-Pitts amendment: that's the same amendment we offered July 30th in committee. So, in a way, the pro-choice people, by rejecting the Speaker's proposal, brought this on themselves, and then somehow now they're blaming me. I find that rather ironic.

Would you be open to considering that 'Hyde-lite' language as part of the final package?

No. Why would I compromise now? I won the issue.

Are you confident that your language is going to be in the Senate version?

Yes. I've heard both Harry Reid say we're going to stay with current law, and the president in his ABC News interview, in sort of a roundabout way, basically said we'll keep current law: I don't want money being sent in for abortions, and I don't want any restrictions of women's rights. That's the Stupak language. That's the Hyde language we've had for 37 years, so I feel I'm in good shape. And no, they rejected the offer and we beat them fair and square on the floor. So why would I now want to negotiate it away?

A lot of the opponents of this amendment say that it will create a class divide in the ability to obtain abortions. I understand that for someone who's pro-life, fewer abortions is good no matter what, but do you see any validity to that reasoning for opposing what you've put in the bill?

No, we're going with current law. If current law is a class divide, then they must conclude that current law is too. No, all I'm doing is keeping current law--I'm not trying to divide classes or anything like that. All I'm doing is keeping current law that's been current law since 1976.