Pelosi Waves White Flag on Abortion

House Dems make pragmatic shift. Will it last?

By Robert A. George
|  Tuesday, Nov 10, 2009  |  Updated 9:18 PM EDT
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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has moved to recapture a New Deal-era coalition. But will it last?

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It will be interesting to see how long Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s coalition survives.

Faced with a choice between staying true to the one social issue that has defined the party for nearly four decades or a chance at passing the one domestic policy Dems have craved far longer, Speaker Pelosi and company tossed aside their pro-choice ideology and permitted a big pro-life win this weekend.

And so, one chamber of Congress passed a universal (or nearly-so) health-care package for the first time since Harry Truman first suggested it in 1945.

But, it comes at a rather large cost for liberals. The so-called Stupak Amendment (put forward by Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak) prevents federal subsidies going to any insurance plans that cover elective abortions -- even private ones that currently cover the procedure.

Ironically, a Democrat-run House just passed one of the strongest anti-abortion measures in decades.

It's not really such a big surprise. It's just another manifestation of the "Boll Weevil" conundrum: The same strategic approach that gained Democrats their majority in 2006 -- running cultural conservatives in many districts across the country -- has also forced them to lose several conservative-liberal fights. Earlier this year, the Democratic Congress passed a major gun-rights measure much to the frustration of pro gun-control liberals.

This weekend, 64 Democrats supported the Stupak amendment -- one-quarter of the Democratic majority. That Speaker Pelosi allowed it to come to a vote is as much of a win as the outcome of the actual vote.

Pelosi -- a pro-choice Roman Catholic -- reportedly gave in to pressure from Catholic bishops who were otherwise friendly to the overall health care effort as long as there were tough and near iron-clad abortion restrictions attached.

The question is: Will this big victory for the bishops and the pro-life forces in the Democratic Party hold up in the Senate?

At first blush, it doesn't look good: Sunday afternoon, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Tweeted that she "strongly [opposes] the Stupak Amendment in the House [health care reform] bill. It's discriminatory toward women and must not make it in the final bill."

Considering that the House bill passed by only five votes (including the lone GOP vote -- Rep. Joseph Cao of Louisiana, a Roman Catholic), there's not much margin for error. Stripping Stupak in conference committee would cause the bill to lose once presented back in the House. For that matter, at least one pro-choice House member has said she'd vote against the legislation if Stupak remains in the final bill.

Before all this can be decided, there are several weeks of contentious debate to be had in the Senate, involving controversial items like the public option -- which may face a filibuster of its own.

But by giving in on abortion, Nancy Pelosi may have revived the Catholic-heavy, New Deal-era coalition that broke apart in the 1960s and '70s over social issues, crime and foreign policy.

If it lasts, that’s good for Dems. 

New York writer Robert A. George blogs at Ragged Thots. Follow him on Twitter. 

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