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Rep. Dan Lipinski
Associated Press/Photo by Brian Kersey
Rep. Dan Lipinski

Loyal to life, not to party

Abortion

Rep. Dan Lipinski is a rarity in the House of Representatives these days: He’s a pro-life Democrat. He addressed the March for Life Friday, speaking by video to the tens of thousands who braved bitter cold in Washington, D.C., to take a stand for the sanctity of human life. Lipinski, who represents a Chicago area district, said he joined the marchers in mourning “the 40th anniversary of the taking away of the most basic of human rights—the right to life.” He then pointed out, “Life should not be a partisan issue.”

Of course, he’s right. Both parties should defend the right to life. It cannot be a healthy sign for America when one party is committed to the destruction of innocent unborn children while the other—in too many cases—offers only a weak or timorous defense. 

We used to have nearly a hundred genuinely pro-life Democrats in the House. The original Hyde Amendment, which barred federal funding of nearly all abortions, was passed in 1977 with strong bipartisan majorities. We should remember, especially, Rep. William Natcher, D-Ky., a very senior Democrat who stood up to liberal pressures for years to defend the unborn.

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The greatest crisis for pro-life Democrats came in 2010 when Obamacare was being rammed through Congress. In the crunch, many long-term pro-life Democrats became, tragically, faux-life Democrats. Some, like Minnesota’s Jim Oberstar, who carried the banner of the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, Hubert Humphrey’s coalition, had been in the House for half a lifetime and had loyally voted pro-life from 1975 to 2010. But then, unconscionably, he and a score of others voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that Speaker Nancy Pelosi had promised to pass by hook or by crook. 

These pro-life Democrats had originally backed the Stupak-Pitts Amendment of 2009, which would have given the president what he said he wanted: full healthcare coverage for all Americans, but it would have prevented the funding of abortion. The amendment garnered 240 votes in the House and had the backing, according to a Quinnipiac University poll taken at the time, of 72 percent of Americans. Those 240 votes represented the highest bipartisan support for almost any measure in that bitterly divided legislative chamber.

At that time, President Obama said, “We have a tradition of not funding abortion.” But he had been elected, he told us repeatedly, to “fundamentally transform America,” not to respect traditions. And so he didn’t. The final version of Obamacare doesn’t force anyone to pay for abortions; it just forces us all to pay for insurance that covers abortion

It’s a presidential shell game. Except that under Obama’s shell we find the lives of millions of unborn children at grave risk. Poor Rep. Stupak buckled under party pressure and accepted an executive order from Obama that the president claimed would achieve the same goal Stupak sought with his amendment. It didn’t. It couldn’t 

After the passing of Obamacare, many pro-life Democrats retired in 2010, as Stupak did, or were defeated in the Tea Party-led “shellacking” from voters later that year. Ironically, that made the Democratic Party more militantly pro-abortion and strengthened the pro-life position of the GOP.

That makes what Rep. Lipinski is doing to stand for life, to stand with us, even more significant. Consider the sacrifices he’s making by going against his party. He will never chair an important committee in the House. He will never get his party’s nomination for governor of Illinois, or for the U.S. Senate. If a pro-abortion Democrat challenges him in a Democratic primary, his party’s House leadership, the White House, and the Democratic National Committee will back his opponent. In the less-than-likely event he is defeated by a pro-life Republican in a general election, he will never receive an ambassadorship or even a sub-sub-Cabinet appointment.

We are reminded of the story of the widow’s mite, where Jesus taught about the poor woman who gave “out of her poverty” while contrasting it with those who gave generously, but out of their great wealth. 

We are very grateful for lawmakers—Republicans or Democrats—who stand for life. Because the congressional districts are increasingly being gerrymandered, or “sorted out” (liberal author Bill Bishop’s book warns us about “The Big Sort.”), with Republican districts becoming more Republican and Democrats ones more Democratic, there is less room for the kind of bipartisanship that Henry Hyde, William Natcher, and Bart Stupak once represented. The downside to such a “sort” is that it can tear us apart over such deeply troubling issues as the right to life.

One way to bring us back together would be to not force Americans to pay for abortion, directly or indirectly. Americans over the decades—even many who count themselves as “pro-choice”—have agreed that no one should be forced to violate his or her conscience by paying for abortion. 

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