Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And some Americans, as weve heard, still have hard feelings about a law they never wanted. Now one rare example of bipartisanship may be another casualty of the bitter debate - cooperation between Republicans and Democrats who have long worked together to oppose abortion.

NPR's Julie Rovner reports on the escalating war of words.

JULIE ROVNER: For Democrats and Republicans who oppose abortion, party has long been secondary - that is, until Sunday, when Democratic abortion opponents broke with Republican abortion opponents to help pass the health bill. That led to this conclusion from Erick Erickson, a Republican consultant and head of RedState.com, an influential conservative blog.

Mr. ERICK ERICKSON (RedState.com): Like unicorns and Persius, pro-life Democrats are myths.

ROVNER: He'd get an argument on that point from Bart Stupak of Michigan. Stupak very nearly prevented the bill from passing over the abortion language. He only voted for it in the end after he extracted a promise from President Obama for an executive order.

In that order, signed Wednesday, the president promised not to use the new law to expand abortion rights. That gave Stupak and his anti-abortion Democratic colleagues the assurance they needed to vote for the measure.

Representative BART STUPAK (Democrat, Michigan): With the final bill, plus the executive order, make no doubt about it - there will be no public funds for abortion.

ROVNER: But New Jersey Republican Chris Smith, who co-chairs the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus with Stupak, saw thing quite a bit differently.

Representative CHRISTOPHER SMITH (Republican, New Jersey): We are looking at legislation that contains within it the largest expansion of publicly funded abortion in history.

ROVNER: Not surprisingly, Republicans and Democrats who oppose abortion also disagreed on the impact of the health bill. Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur said that giving more people health insurance could actually make it more likely that women with unintended pregnancies will carry those pregnancies to term.

Representative MARCY KAPTUR (Democrat, Ohio): In those communities that have provided maternal care and health care for children, for all children, we find that the abortion rate goes down significantly.

ROVNER: But Republican Michele Bachmann of Minnesota predicted the opposite.

Representative MICHELE BACHMANN (Republican, Minnesota): If there is taxpayer funding of abortion, there will be 30 percent more abortions.

ROVNER: It got downright nasty later in the evening on the House floor. Republicans tried to offer anti-abortion language as an amendment to the so-called health care fix-it bill. Democrat Bart Stupak got up to oppose it.

Rep. STUPAK: The motion to recommit does not promote life. It is the Democrats who have stood up. It is the Democrats who have stood up. Suspend(ph) - those who are shouting out are out of order.

ROVNER: During the outburst, Texas Republican Randy Neugebauer shouted out baby killer. Democrats booed.

Political scientist John Green says he was stunned by the divide he saw develop on Sunday.

Mr. JOHN GREEN (University of Akron): I was sitting there with my jaw dropping, you know, watching, you know, this debate unfold between people who had been pretty strong allies for quite some time.

ROVNER: Green heads the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. He's studied the politics of abortion for years. But Green says, in some ways you can't be too surprised, given the overall partisan tone that's taken hold in Washington.

Mr. GREEN: Particularly for elected officials, partisanship may ultimately count more than issues when push comes to shove.

ROVNER: But Green says there was a religious split that made the political split possible. While Catholic bishops continued to oppose the health bill on anti-abortion grounds, Catholic nuns and hospitals said it did, in fact, prohibit abortion funding.

Mr. GREEN: And I think that made a big difference, because it gave many pro-life Democrats some cover to compromise on the bill.

ROVNER: In the end, Green says, the debate boiled down to a simple matter of trust. Democrats believe that President Obama will keep his word to prevent abortion funding; Republicans don't.

Here's Republican Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania.

Representative JOE PITTS (Republican, Pennsylvania): This puts the fate of the unborn in the hands of the most pro-abortion president in history.

ROVNER: And there are indications that the fight could get beyond just words. Over the past 36 hours, there have been increasing reports of threats made against lawmakers in the wake of the health bill votes. Many of those threats have been directed against Stupak and his group of anti-abortion Democrats who voted for the health care bill.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: For answers to some of your questions about the health care overhaul law, visit our Web site, npr.org.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.