Health Care Hell

By Stupak, Bart | Newsweek, May 17, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Health Care Hell


Stupak, Bart, Newsweek


Byline: Bart Stupak

During the past few months, I often drew strength from a poem taped to my desk in Washington and framed on the wall of my home office in Menominee, Mich. "Bullfight critics ranked in rows," it begins, "Crowd the enormous plaza full/But only one is there who knows/And he's the man who fights the bull."

Written by a Spanish matador, the poem really resonated with me last fall as I wrestled with two longstanding personal convictions--that health care is a national right, and that federal dollars should not be used to pay for abortion--thrown into conflict by a universal-insurance bill that would cover abortion. I tried to warn my House colleagues that I wasn't going to give up one belief for the other. But ultimately they left me no other choice: the Stupak amendment passed last November, upholding the current law that prohibits public funding for abortions--and beginning the most grueling period in my nearly 20 years on the Hill.

The attacks started almost immediately, with activists and editorialists churning out slogans ("Stop Stupak!") and jokes ("Stupak is as Stupak does"). For solace I would go to my corner church, St. Peter's on Second and C streets, and slide into a left-side pew (I am a Democrat, after all) to pray and think. I was disappointed when the Senate did not pass my pro-life language in its version of the health-care bill. And while I questioned my position constantly--am I not seeing the forest for the trees?--I resolved, along with a coalition of other pro-life Democrats, not to back down. I snatched maybe three hours of sleep a night.

That pattern continued, and the attacks intensified, right down to the House reconciliation vote on March 21. By then I had realized that health-care reform would pass, so rather than vote no and lose my power to add pro-life protections, I gathered my coalition to try to reach an agreement with President Obama: an executive order confirming that no federal money would support abortion. On that Sunday, seven or eight of us pro-lifers sat with silver urns of coffee, yellow legal pads, and red pens in a discreet room away from the White House, hammering out the language.

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