The vitriol hurled at Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) over his months-long obstruction of the congressional health reform bill looks pretty familiar to those on the front lines of the reproductive justice movement.
Death threats. Insults. Stalking. Harassment.
The same types of intimidation that are commonplace for many women’s health care providers, clinic escorts and patients.
Which leads to some interesting contrasts with a long ago vote cast by Stupak, then a freshman lawmaker from tiny Menominee, Mich., and his more recent health care line-in-the-sand demands as an 8-term congressman.
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In one of his earliest floor ballots as a new federal lawmaker, Stupak voted against the landmark 1994 Freedom to Access Clinic Entrances Act (FACE Act) that set federal criminal sanctions for violent acts, threats and commercial interference by protesters at abortion clinics and churches.
Had anyone been paying attention to the obscure Catholic Michigan congressman, that vote augurs a long career of conflicted loyalties when viewed through the lens of the nonpartisan vote analyzer, OntheIssues.org, which classifies the Upper Peninsula Democrat as a populist-leaning liberal in an R+3 district.
Ascending to prominence among a small band of anti-choice Democrats in the raucous House, Stupak early on cast his lot with those who gamble the nation’s progress over the cheap rallying cry of socially conservative ideologues.
Except stripping away the unhinged abortion debate over the FACE Act and the recently signed health care reform law is a fairly simple principle embraced by most Americans — medical privacy.
In both cases it was one of the very rare times Stupak votes against his party. According to OpenCongress.org, he gives the nod to party leadership 96 percent of the time.
And that four percent of opposition votes are usually doozies that send progressive activists to the battlelines.
The FACE Act vote, in particular, suggests the former Michigan State trooper’s ideological intransigence on reproductive health issues trumps his more populist, law-and-order leanings. Billed as criminal justice reform legislation, the FACE Act was designed to address the onslaught of violence and intimidation by abortion foes taking place at women’s clinics across the nation for more than two decades.
The bill, authored by fellow Catholic Sen. Ted Kennedy, didn’t provide public funding for care nor did it encourage women to terminate pregnancies under any circumstance.
However, the gruesome need for federal protections for women exercising their right to medical privacy was signified by a slew of attacks and execution-styled murders.
During the House FACE Act debate in 1993, Dr. David Gunn was murdered by anti-choice militants. Five months later Mobile, Ala., physician George Patterson’s death by shooting was widely suspected to be related to his work.
Within months of the bill’s May 1994 passage, Dr. John Britton and clinic escort James Barrett were gunned down and two Boston-area clinic receptionists, Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, were killed in a shooting rampage. Soon after, the “Nuremberg Files” Web site, a thinly-veiled hit list that targeted physicians with wanted-style posters, personal dossiers and monetary rewards, was posted online to aid vigilantes in tracking potential victims.
The horrible echo of those dark years was recalled in the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller and months later through the angry bile vented at congressional town hall meetings and Tea Party protests — some of which was directed at Stupak himself.
The terrorism still comes in unrelenting waves. Since 1994, more than 4500 violence acts and 148,851 disruptive incidents have been reported by clinics, according to the National Abortion Federation.
Now some 16 years after the law to protect clinics was signed by President Clinton, the Justice Dept. and FBI are currently involved in at least three FACE Act cases involving threats to abortion providers in Texas and Colorado and an on-going conspiracy probe of Tiller’s murder.
In light of the continuing violence and privacy violations directed at reproductive health care staff and their patients by anti-choice activists, questions are being raised about the effectiveness of the FACE Act as more threats are reported.
Yet reforming the law would be an uphill climb in the current political climate of hyper-partisanship, simplistic political outrage whipped up by astroturf groups and complaints of low-profile members of Congress engaging in a “tyranny of the minority” by filibustering bills on narrow ideological grounds.
So who better to ask about the smoke-filled room process than the congressman from Michigan with feet firmly planted in the law enforcement and anti-abortion camps who was one of 181 votes that almost killed the FACE Act?
With Stupak’s staff scrambling to quash rumors that he is retiring after receiving threats from angry anti-choice activists, his Capitol Hill office spokesperson was unable to respond with an official statement by press time.