Who Is Bart Stupak?

Ariana Childs Graham

Who is Bart Stupak and why is he fronting for the far right in the health care debate? An analysis of Stupak's political record and past history reveals that he was the perfect man for the job: a consistently anti-choice Democrat who isn't worried about reelection, who has a strong connection to the Religious Right and who has done their bidding before. He’s their chosen and willing one and by not wavering thus far, he’s done them proud.

Today, Representative Bart Stupak’s (D-MI) name has become synonymous with the relentless efforts to include abortion restrictions in healthcare reform. However, before his eleventh hour heist of meaningful healthcare reform last November, if he was known publicly at all, it wasn’t for his work on anti-choice issues.

The trajectory of Stupak’s life is in many ways a classic chapter from the great American success story: Eagle Scout, community college graduate, police officer.  He later earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Saginaw Valley State University and then a law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michiga. He served one term in the Michigan House of Representatives (from 1989-90), representing Menominee, Delta and Dickinson counties, lost his run for the state senate in 1990 and beat out the Republican incumbent in 1992 for his seat in the US House of Representatives. The narrative suggested on paper by his history—of living a life steeped in hard work, fairness and public service—is one that Stupak himself seems to embrace.

While he has been recognized for his leadership in energy-related matters, Stupak’s primary reputation prior to last November has been as a public servant attentive to the concerns and needs of his constituents in the first Congressional district in Michigan–a predominantly rural area whose residents have not been forgotten by their congressman. A review of Stupak’s legislative agenda in the current session shows that 13 of the 43 bills he has sponsored or co-sponsored relate to local matters, followed by those addressing the usual mix of his priority issues relating to energy, law enforcement, armed forces and healthcare. Rarely, though, has he galvanized a base of supporters around a piece of legislation. The goals for his current term as outlined on his 2008 campaign website are to “advocate for the needs of rural areas, a fair energy policy, healthcare reform, the protection of our Great Lakes, and to ensure that this nation supports our veterans.”

Healthcare has been a recurring theme for Stupak, often steeped in reforms required specifically to meet the needs of Michigan’s first: increasing the amount of payment for Medicare home health services in rural areas, holding health insurance providers accountable to anti-trust laws, ensuring that enrollment in Medicare prescription coverage is voluntary, among others. He is perhaps most well known for his crusade for better management, screening, and education in prescribing and dispensing medication to prevent mistakes in prescribing and adverse reactions to prescription drugs. He has fought for greater restrictions on drugs containing isotretinoin, including the commercially-known drug Accutane. The tragic inspiration for these efforts appears to be the death of his son, Bart Jr., who was using Accutane at the time he committed suicide. Stupak attributes side effects from the Accutane as a contributing factor.

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Judging from his past, it’s pretty safe to say that Stupak didn’t come up with the anti-choice amendment to healthcare reform or the strategy behind it by himself. While he has regularly voted against funding for programs that would reduce unintended pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted infections, and address other sexual and reproductive health needs, he’s rarely demonstrated public leadership on these issues. And he’s certainly never been in the spotlight like this before. As he noted recently, much of his anti-choice lobbying has gone on “behind the scenes” with Democratic leadership. And he’s all but said that the lobbyists at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) wrote the Stupak amendment for him.

So, that leaves one important question: Why did the anti-choice lobby choose Stupak to lead the movement to add abortion restrictions to healthcare reform?

He’s anti-choice, though has a “mixed record” when looked at from the absolutist view of some pro-life groups.

Generally speaking, Bart Stupak is a rank-and-file Democrat. He votes with his party 96 percent of the time. He’s with the Democrats on war, spending, energy, government regulation and so on. From his voting record, it seems that the few times that Stupak has broken rank have been on issues pertaining to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Here’s a quick look at Stupak’s record on sexual and reproductive health:

He voted for the ban on late abortions in both the Clinton and Bush eras, despite the fact that these votes went against the advice of and evidence conferred by the medical community.  He voted for the Global Gag Rule in its many iterations, a policy which research has shown actually results in an increased number of unintended pregnancies and abortions because it prohibits funding of effective family planning programs.  He voted against legislation that would have allowed female members of the military to use their own funds for abortion when serving overseas. He voted for an amendment that would prohibit the the FDA from using funds for any abortion-inducing drugs.

He voted ‘yes’ on the 1993 Hyde Amendment, which prohibited federal funding for abortion except in the case of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. He’s also voted in favor of the “Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act. All in all, Stupak has cast an anti-choice vote on over 40 separate occasions.

He has also voted against programs that would reduce unintended pregnancy, which would in turn reduce the need for abortion. For example, he voted to fund abstinence-only education programs in the United States. He has voted in support of family planning programs, but only when the use of funds for abortions is prohibited.  He voted for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as well as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He voted for parental notification not only when a minor procures an abortion, but also when they receive contraceptives. He has also consistently voted against embryonic stem cell research.

His opposition to sexual and reproductive health and rights doesn’t stop at his voting record. His organizational affiliations also affirm his anti-choice ideology. The National Right to Life Campaign, which has given him scores ranging from 71 percent to 100 percent (in regard to the compatibility of his votes with the NRLC agenda), backed his 2004 campaign.  He is a member of the Pro-Life Caucus in the House, and he also sits on the Advisory Board of Democrats for Life(DFL).

As a member of DFL, he was an ardent supporter of the 95-10 initiative, which sought to reduce the number of abortions by 95 percent in 10 years through providing “accurate” iinformation about abortion, abortion counseling, tax credits for adoption and so on.  In an interesting twist, he also co-sponsored the “Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Act,” legislation which some of his fellow DFL members opposed due to its emphasis on contraception.

Stupak’s voting record and organizational affiliation is more than enough to prove his allegiance to the anti-choice lobby.  Although, given that there are a number of dedicated, “prolife” Democrats, the answer to “Why Stupak?” goes deeper than votes.

He’s done their bidding before.

Every year since Stupak has been in office, an iteration of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit the discrimination of employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, has been introduced to no avail.  In 2007, though, ENDA passed in the House after Democrats dropped transgender rights from the bill.  And there was much speculation and trepidation by advocates of all stripes that ENDA may actually become law.

While the US bishops took no position on the larger bill, they—along with the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church—were eager to include a religious exemption.  And, much like with healthcare reform, Stupak was their man to get this done.

Stupak, along with Representative George Miller (D-CA), introduced an amendment to ENDA that allowed any religious organization to be exempt from ENDA and also reasserted DOMA. 

In a statement to Congress, Stupak noted the support of the USCCB and said, “No American should have to face discrimination in the workplace, regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation. However, religious organizations should be able to hire individuals who agree with their religious beliefs. It is also important to make it explicitly clear that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and that no part of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act could be misconstrued to undercut the Defense of Marriage Act.”

Stupak voted in favor of the bill, which included his amendment.  The legislation subsequently died in the Senate.

In the same year, Stupak sponsored an amendment which failed–with Chris Smith (D-PA) to the Appropriations Bill to keep in place the “Mexico City Policy,” also known as the Global Gag Rule. He also worked with Representative Joesph Pitts (R-PA) to maintain 33 percent of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief’s spending for abstinence-only programs.

It’s as if these were Stupak’s dress rehearsals for the healthcare debacle.

His seat has been secure.

Stupak could never have held healthcare reform captive during an election year if he didn’t feel a certain security about his place in Congress.  When he first ran for the House of Representatives in 1992, he won by 10 points. Since then, his winning margin has grown exponentially. In the 2008 election, Stupak won 68 percent of the vote.

His campaign fundraising has been somewhat minimal at just over $7 millionover the span of his entire career. His top contributors have consistently been healthcare professionals and unions. Aside from a curious piece of legislation that sought to include dental health care in disaster relief services and can be traced back to large campaign contributions from the American Dental Association, he doesn’t seem particularly beholden to his healthcare-related campaign contributors. One of his biggest contributors is Blue Cross/ Blue Shield, and yet he has spoken in support of anti-trust regulations within the insurance industry.

Stupak floated a gubernatorial bid early this year.  However, in late January, he announced that he wouldn’t be running for governor, but would instead be seeking reelection in Congress.  He stated, “My seniority and experience in Congress, where I sit on the Energy and Commerce Committee and serve as Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, afford me a significant opportunity to affect positive change.”

Democratic activist and former Charlevoix County Commissioner Connie Saltonstall will be challenging Stupak in the primary. The impetus for her run is Stupak’s involvement in healthcare reform.”I decided to run because people were…mad about the health care issue,” Saltonstall stated, “It’s his willingness to not have health care pass over his abortion position that has people like me upset.”

As the citizens of the first Congressional district in Michigan have a long history of loyalty when it comes to voting for their representatives, the primary may prove an uphill battle for Saltonstall. Nonetheless donations to Saltonstall are pouring in and the National Organization for Women has endorsed her candidacy.

He’s “Family.”

Stupak considers himself a “devout Catholic” and his opposition to sexual and reproductive health is undoubtedly connected to his allegiance to the teachings of the Catholic church hierarchy. In one interview, he put it plainly: “Look, I’m a Catholic, I’m pro-life, I listen closely to the socio-economic teachings of the church.”

However, there have been moments when Stupak has questioned the actions of the US bishops. In 2004, Stupak was among the few anti-abortion Democrats who signed on to a letter decrying the actions of four bishops who threatened to deny Communion to pro-choice politicians. In signing on to the letter, Stupak stated, “There are a number of us who are Catholic and who are pro-life, and I don’t think the bishops understand. They think that when there’s a pro-life issue they turn to the Republican party and the Republican party passes it. That is absolutely wrong. The Republican party on its own cannot pass one pro-life, one Catholic issue, without the support of us 30 to 35 pro-life Democrats who vote consistently with the Catholic church and with the pro-life movement on issues.”

With healthcare reform, the USCCB capitalized on these words. They needed a “pro-life” Democrat to do their bidding and they chose Stupak. Stupak himself acknowledges the close working relationship he has had with the USCCB over the past months. Upon passage of his amendment, Stupak stated, “The Catholic church used their power–their clout, if you will–to influence this issue.”

Of course, Stupak is not just Catholic family, he’s “Family” as well.

Stupak is connected to the ultra-conservative, primarily evangelical Christian group, the Fellowship, also known as “the Family.” The Family serves as a catalyst for partnerships and political relationships that advance a fundamentalist agenda.

Despite living in a house on C Street since 2002 that is owned by the Family, Stupak has denied any formal association with the group. However, it seems less than coincidental that Stupak partnered with Joseph Pitts, another member of the Family, when introducing this amendment which has held the health care reform bill hostage. Perhaps the Family has been grooming Stupak to assert a leadership position with the support of long-time vocal anti-choice warriors, such as Pitts, among others.

Some say Stupak is just trying to get his 15 minutes of fame.  And that may be true.  But more likely, Stupak is just capitalizing on the 15 minutes given to him by the anti-choice lobby.  He was the perfect man for the job: a consistently anti-choice Democrat who isn’t worried about reelection, who has a strong connection to the Religious Right and who has done their bidding before. He’s their chosen and willing one and by not wavering thus far, he’s done them proud.

If nothing else, the controversy generated by Stupak’s agenda, and the loss of trust by pro-choice women in the Democratic party as a result of concessions to both Stupak and Senator Ben Nelson both should serve to illustrate to the Democratic leadership the implications for the party of supporting candidates who depart from the Democratic platform on sexual and reproductive health, if in fact it can be assumed these issues are more than nominally still part of the platform at this date.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

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