Substantiate, please

Pro-Choice Activists Rally At Chicago's Roosevelt University

Last week I wrote a news story about the recent passage of the amendment restricting abortion funding and subsidies in the House health care legislation. I was interviewing various activists and one of them told me that they'd had to work solely through alternate media for the last 10 months because the mainstream media wasn't doing a very good job of looking at the abortion issue as it related to the health care bill. Until, that is, about 48 hours prior to the vote on Rep. Bart Stupak's amendment to the House legislation. This activist said that they kept trying to get reporters to dig into the legislation or look at how the issue was playing with the grassroots -- but very few bit. The abortion issue, of course, turned out to be a serious obstacle for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi - and one she overcame by allowing the Stupak Amendment up for a vote.

One of the few reporters who was paying attention to the issue -- you might recall his September story on Page One of the New York Times -- is David Kirkpatrick. Today he had another look at the issue, this time noting that people who care about abortion, well, still care about abortion:

Lobbying over abortion was turning into a sleepy business. But the health care debate has brought a new boom, and both sides are exploiting it with fund-raising appeals.

"The reaction has been phenomenal, like a match dropped on dry kindling," said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The piece looks at how abortion opponents and abortion rights supporters have been receiving a great deal of grassroots support. I'm not entirely sure that abortion lobbying was sleepy, per se, but the president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List says contributions and activism are quite high for a year without a national election. Of course, anyone who attended this year's March for Life could have told you that the election of President Barack Obama had motivated a large turnout at the annual event.

The story notes that anti-abortion groups were vocally opposing abortion funding for months while abortion-rights groups "got into the act" just weeks ago. One thing that is interesting about that is that both groups are putting out surprisingly similar statements. So, for instance, the front page of the National Right to Life Committee web site has had up a link to a 2007 video of President Obama promising Planned Parenthood that reproductive rights (including abortion) would be at the heart of his health care proposal. After the Stupak Amendment passed, Planned Parenthood sent out an alert to members reminding them of the same thing. Meanwhile, much of the media has largely ignored these promises and how they have left one side feeling fearful and the other betrayed.

This Times story, however, devotes a lot of space to the wake-up call that abortion rights groups had when the amendment passed. It might have been nice to see a bit of discussion as to why pro-choice groups were so quiet this year leading up to the vote, but it's great to see a story listing the various ways that supports of abortion rights are taking action. And Kirkpatrick doesn't just look at the big political groups. He notes that Cosmopolitan magazine is pushing readers to sign a petition against Stupak. abortion-is-not-healthcare-2 The story also notes exactly what's on the line for both sides in the debate. I was not expecting the story to include recent polls on the matter. One poll showed that opposition to the health care overhaul was not motivated by inclusion of abortion coverage. That and other polls showed strong majorities oppose taxpayer funding and subsidizing of abortions. The story does include those results, although they could be written a bit more clearly. But check out these paragraphs:

Just a few months ago, some pollsters were predicting an end to the culture wars as younger generations grew more accustomed to same-sex unions and less passionate about opposing abortion. The long-running abortion fight played little role in the 2008 presidential race or even in last summer's relatively uneventful Supreme Court confirmation.

But now the issue threatens to sidetrack the broader debate over a health care overhaul. A group of Democratic opponents of abortion in the House said they would block the final legislation if it allowed subsidies for abortion coverage. A group of abortion-rights supporters said they would block the bill if it restricted the subsidies, although they have yet to confirm that they have the votes to do so.

Well, just a few months ago, pollsters weren't saying that as all. In fact, I'm reminded of the May Gallup poll that showed "More Americans "Pro-Life" Than "Pro-Choice" for First Time" and that fewer think abortion should be legal under any circumstances. And that Gallup poll was not an outlier. I have no idea which "pollsters" Kirkpatrick is referring to but he needs to substantiate that line either way.

Reporters are, hopefully, noticing (prior to 48 hours before a final vote) that the Senate bill's provision of abortion subsidies are going over like a lead balloon with pro-lifers. A quick Google search makes it seem like only the Catholic press is publishing that the legislation as written is "unacceptable" to pro-life groups. And pro-choicers are hoping to prevail in the Senate so that the Stupak Amendment will disappear during reconciliation. This battle is heating up so let us know if you see particularly good or bad coverage.

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