If anti-choice activists have their way, Pennsylvania Republican Joe Pitts will be new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. Why? Because the subcommittee sets House policy on abortion and the activists fear that Michigan "moderate" Fred Upton, who appears slated for the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee itself, might put a stick in their spokes. Pitts, on the other hand, became notorious among progressives over the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which at one point verged on derailing health insurance reform.
In a letter sent Thursday to members of the panel of House GOP leaders who pick committee chairmen, the National Right to Life Committee's legislative director, Douglas Johnson, wrote that anti-abortion activists could only accept the election of Upton as chairman of Energy and Commerce if Pitts is assigned to run the Health Subcommittee and abortion foes win seats on the committee.
"Because Mr. Upton's record demonstrates a disagreement with pro-life policies on multiple critical issues that fall within the jurisdiction of the Energy and Commerce Committee, we urge you to withhold support for his ascension to the chairmanship," Johnson wrote, "unless and until there is assurance that the Health Subcommittee will be chaired by Mr. Pitts, and unless all of the Republican vacancies on the committee will be filled by members who are firmly committed to pro-life positions."
While most of the action on anti-abortion has taken place at the state level in recent years - some 600 pieces of legislation in the past year alone - the activists have an agenda in Congress, too.
At The Nation, Katha Pollitt writes:
"This election was not about choice," Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards told me by phone. "The bottom line was jobs and the economy. But if you look at close races where the prochoice candidate won, and where women knew the difference between the candidates on reproductive rights, they voted prochoice and arguably made the difference." As Richards points out, Michael Bennet, Richard Blumenthal and Patty Murray all won by double digits among women.
Richards thinks Democrats will realize they need prochoice women's support to win. "Especially where everyone says they're for jobs and against taxes, choice is an issue that clearly defines for women who's on their side. No one ran ads proudly proclaiming they were antichoice." She also noted that the Senate still has a prochoice majority.
If that's too optimistic for you, try this: only one of the new Republican senators thinks man-made global warming is real. So by the time they've taken control of your womb, you'll probably be dead.
Without having tallied close races, NARAL's BlogforChoice put the anti-choice forces as of Nov. 3 clearly in control of the House, with 248 Representatives in the anti-choice column and 33 with a mixed record. In the Senate the lines are more closely drawn, with 46 anti-choice, 40 pro-choice and 14 mixed-choice Senators. In both houses together, that's a 60-vote gain for the anti-choice forces.
As Pollitt and other pro-choice advocates see things, the heavily anti-choice forces will seek to take action in half a dozen or more areas in the coming two years. Among them:
• The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (also known as "Hyde on Steroids" or Stupak on Steroids"): This would make permanent the 34-year-old Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal spending on abortion but must now be renewed each year. Among other things, the act would not allow a person or employer to get income tax deductions for health care premiums or co-pays if the plan covered abortions.
• The Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act: This would ban federal money for any organization that performs abortions or funds organizations that do. Target: Planned Parenthood.
• Ban Washington, D.C., from spending money for abortions for poor women.
• Rejuvenate the massive failures of "abstinence-only" programs that blocked public school discussion of birth control.
Just a few more examples of why elections have consequences. Just one more arena in which progressives will be in for major fights long before the next elections take place.