The death of the pro-life Democrat?

Rep. Bart Stupak’s stupaking on the health care reform bill has led Wall Street Journal columnist William McGurn to wonder if the pro-life Democratic politician, already an endangered species, has finally gone the way of the Dodo:

By caving at the last hour, he discredited all who stood with him. (What does it say about Ohio’s Marcy Kaptur and Pennsylvania’s Chris Carney that they had already agreed to vote yes even before the fig leaf of the executive order had come through?) In addition to undermining an encouraging partnership with pro-lifers across the congressional aisle, Mr. Stupak signaled that, in the end, you can’t count on pro-life Democrats.

The sad thing is, he says, that Stupak had theretofore struck a very palpable hit on behalf of pro-life Dems, indeed pro-lifers everywhere, by keeping together his posse of holdouts. Whether or not you agree with his other political principles, you had to admire the way he got his party to sit up and take notice. For once, the Democrats needed pro-lifers to round out their governing coalition. How often can you say that?

Amid the recriminations it’s easy to overlook what Mr. Stupak had cobbled together. His amendment restricting federal funding for abortions, passed in November, marked the only bipartisan vote in this whole health-care mess. For the first time since Roe v. Wade, pro-life Democrats had seized the legislative initiative in the teeth of their leadership’s opposition—and brought the party of abortion to heel.

Only now he has chucked it all away, which everyone except him and a few others (like Kristen Day of Democrats for Life) who still insist the emperor’s wearing clothes can see — everyone from most pro-lifers to Planned Parenthood to Nancy Pelosi and every other of the Culture of Death’s congressional agents.

McGurn concludes:

In signing on to this sham order, the Stupak people signed their death warrant as a force within their party. In an America where a majority now describe themselves as pro-life, they have put legislative accommodations on abortion further out of reach. At least in the near future, they have ensured the Democrats will become even more uniformly pro-choice, and our national debate more polarized.

And that’s a tragedy for our politics as well as for our principles.

On the first of this year, here in these electronic pages, I predicted: “The Stupak coalition will break down, and some health-care bill that neither house of Congress would have passed in November will squeak its way to the president’s desk. As the costliest, most coercive, and least popular piece of federal legislation in history is signed (funding for abortion intact), liberal lawmakers will crow that they “did something,” and certain Catholics will continue to insist that there’s no practical difference between Left and Right.”

For once I’m deeply chagrined to be right, to see my cynical impulses confirmed. But I admit I never expected it to be this close, never expected that Stupak & co. would keep their collective boot on the wolf’s throat for so long. Which makes their capitulation all the more disappointing. Still, I may turn out to be wrong about the last thing: that many will persist in the myth that there’s no difference between political ideologies and parties, which is related to, and may have died along with, the political viability of the pro-life Democrat.

As McGurn observes, that death is a tragedy, and I do not welcome it. But if Stupak has served to clarify our perceptions, perhaps it will not have been in vain.

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Todd M. Aglialoro is the acquisitions editor for Catholic Answers.

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