Can reporters count? Stupak can

The omnipresent Howard "Howie" Kurtz of the Washington Post offered this interesting tweet after the victory in the U.S. House by Rep. Bart Stupak and his coalition that opposes the use of tax dollars to fund abortions:

If pro-lifers have a House majority, as Rep. George Miller says, how come the press never got around to telling us?

Unless I have missed the quote elsewhere, Kurtz is referring to this passage in a riveting Politico report about the behind-the-scenes fireworks created by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to allow a vote on the Hyde Amendment language, which was the crucial moment in the House passing a health-reform bill. But allowing that vote was too much for Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro:

... (It) touched off an angry yelling match between DeLauro and another Pelosi confidant, California Rep. George Miller, and tears from some veteran female lawmakers, according to people in the room. Some of the lawmakers argued that Pelosi was turning her back on a decades-long campaign by female Democratic members in support of abortion rights. Miller rose to Pelosi's defense, which resulted in an angry confrontation between him and DeLauro, said the sources.

Miller told DeLauro that there were "more pro-life votes in the House than pro-choice" and that abortion-rights advocates had better acknowledge that reality.

As I noted the other day, anyone who could add up the numbers in the House has known that this collision was coming -- for months. Anyone who has been reading GetReligion for months now (MZ has lots of links in here) has known that we have been asking -- for journalistic reasons -- the same question that Kurtz is now asking.

Where was the mainstream press on this story? Of course, this story is now moving on to the U.S. Senate and faith groups, "pew gaps" and issues of that kind will play a major role there, too.

But back to the Politico piece. I was really struck by this section of the report:

... (The) speaker's decision -- like so many others she made during the drafting of this bill -- showed Pelosi, a Roman Catholic and committed supporter of reproductive rights, to be more ruthlessly practical than her frequent caricature as an activist, upper-crust liberal from San Francisco would suggest.

It wasn't just that she was disappointing some members over a last-minute change they disagreed with. She had to take on her closest and senior-most lieutenants on an issue that for many of them is like an article of faith, a defining tenet of what makes them a Democrat. And when she needed the votes, that's what she did. ...

The drama had built for months, pitting a group of Democrats against the Catholic Church. Priests and bishops were calling members to lobby for stricter language to limit abortion coverage, members and aides said last week. But the final decision played out over a few furious hours ... as the fate of the broader bill still hung in the balance and stirred up long-dormant tensions within the Democratic Party over reproductive rights.

What? You didn't know there were tensions among Democrats on a wide range of abortion issues? You mean that abortion is "an article of faith" for some, but not all, Democrats? You mean there are also arguments about what it means to be "pro-life" vs. merely "anti-abortion"? You mean that there are Democrats who want strong restrictions on abortion rights, even if they do not favor a ban? Click here for a look into some of that, care of the fine print in a Pew Forum study.

What? This "drama had built for months"? Did anyone see any mainstream coverage of that "lighthouse" story during recent months? I didn't think so. Kurtz is right, but it would be nice if he addressed the issue in more than a tweet.

P.S. While the piece is on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, click here for some insights into the facts and numbers about what happens next on this story (a) in the Senate and (b) if the pro-abortion-rights forces in the House try to strip the Hyde Amendment language out of the bill on the next go-around.

Here's the end of that piece:

... Democrats now have to make some decisions that may anger their Planned Parenthood wing. The fight itself will be interesting, judging from a claim by Diana DeGette (D., Col.) in yesterday's Washington Post that 40 Democrats will vote against a final bill unless the Stupak amendment is stripped out. Of course, if it is stripped out, that will put even more pressure on those 64 Democrats who voted for the amendment.

"We won because [the Democrats] need us," says Mr. Stupak. "If they are going to summarily dismiss us by taking the pen to that language, there will be hell to pay. I don't say it as a threat, but if they double-cross us, there will be 40 people who won't vote with them the next time they need us -- and that could be the final version of this bill."

Stay tuned. You too, Howie.

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