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Dec. 9 2009 - 10:44 am | 32 views | 1 recommendation | 2 comments

Casey’s Lack of Courage Paves Way for Abortion Funding

Bob Casey, Jr. and Barack Obama in Lancaster, Pa.

Bob Casey, Jr. and Barack Obama in Lancaster, Pa.

In the past few weeks, a handful of Democratic senators have threatened to hold up health-care legislation if one of their key demands was not met. Most famously, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana allowed a procedural vote on the bill to go through only after being assured that her state would receive $300 million in federal subsidies. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who is actually an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, threatens to filibuster any health-care bill that contains a public option. Sen. Ben Nelson hints that he might filibuster if the legislation permits indirect federal funding of abortion.

Of the other Senate Democrats who might be expected to hold up the legislation if one of his demands was not resolved, Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania would also seem to be a good candidate. Like that of Nelson, his concern would seem to be the bill’s impact on the lives of the unborn. Casey’s father was heroically pro-life, as his whole family. Casey as a senator has taken unpopular votes on the pro-life side. And although conservatives trash his voting record, he is the rare Senate Democrat who actually wants to overturn Roe v. Wade or more relevantly, Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the 1992 Supreme Court abortion decision that bears his late father’s name.

Like others who have written about Sen. Casey, I have a soft spot in my heart for him. In a long interview I had with him once, he advised me to look deeper into one county in western Pennsylvania as an example of a county that had switched to the Republicans because of the national Democratic Party’s cultural liberalism. I took his advice, and the first chapter in my book used Westmoreland County as a synecdoche of the national party’s electoral woes.

Yet in the debate over health-care reform, Casey’s pro-life voice has been muted. He has done nothing more for the unborn than do as he did yesterday in voting for the Nelson anti-abortion amendment. He has not said he will hold up the legislation if it contains indirect funding of abortion. As he said recently, “I just think that there’s going to be enough momentum to get a bill passed that one issue – even a very important issue – will not prevent passage.” In fact, Casey says that he will vote for health-care reform even if the legislation allows private insurers that cover abortion to get federal dollars. Casey might well change his mind, but so far he won’t stand on principle.

Coming up with Casey’s possible objections to making a bold stand on behalf of the unborn is not difficult. He’s likely worried about pro-choice suburban voters in the Philadelphia suburbs, the ones who caused him to lose his bid for Pennsylvania governor in 2002. But his status has changed. He’s an incumbent. He doesn’t need to worry as much about losing a Democratic primary. And anyway, the senior senator from Pennsylvania, a man whom few call a man of principle, has never ducked an issue because it might result in a primary challenge.

Casey’s lack of political courage will have a cost, if not for him than for the pro-life cause he seeks to represent.  It will mean that some sort of abortion funding will be put in the health-care plan that is signed into law. Democrats need two of the three holdouts to cave. Unless I’m wrong, Snowe and Lieberman will drop their filibuster bids because the bill won’t have a public option. Nelson will be left hanging.

To be sure, a final health-care bill will contain some version of the Stupak amendment. Expect it to be watered down though. Some of the pro-life House Democrats can be expected to give in if the fate of health-care reform in the United States is at stake. A revamped health-care system will include some indirect funding of abortion. And unless Casey stands up to principle, he knows who will be partly responsible.


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    Mark Stricherz is the author of Why the Democrats are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People's Party (Encounter Books, 2007). He was born in San Francisco in 1970 and raised in the Bay Area. He graduated from Santa Clara University and the University of Chicago (M.A. in Social Sciences, '97). In between, he worked, as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, for an inner-city housing agency in Baton Rouge, La. His work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, The New Republic, and The Weekly Standard, among other publications. He, his wife, and two daughters live in the Washington, D.C. region.

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