Un-Pelosi: The Senator Who’ll Kill the Stupak Amendment

Freshman New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand tells the Daily Beast why the notorious anti-abortion Stupak amendment will be defeated—and how she’s helping bring it down.

11.20.09 7:45 AM ET

As the health care bill moves into its final negotiations, freshman New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand tells the Daily Beast why the notorious anti-abortion Stupak amendment will be defeated—and how she’s helping bring it down.

In an interview with the Daily Beast on November 19, Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York expressed confidence that the Stupak amendment would not appear in a final congressional health-care reform bill. The measure, added to the House heath-care bill by Michigan Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak, would have banned any insurance plan in the health-care exchange from offering abortion coverage to any woman receiving government subsidies. But the measure does not appear in the Senate version of the bill, a move Gillibrand attributed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

“I’m going to do everything I can, I’m going to work as hard as I can, to make sure [Stupak’s] not in there,” says Sen. Gillibrand. “And I’m optimistic that it won’t be.”

“It shows great leadership on Harry Reid’s part that he put in a provision that maintains the status quo and ensures that Stupak won’t be in there,” Gillibrand told me. “And I am confident we have 60 votes to get the bill through.”

Under pressure from Gillibrand and pro-abortion-rights groups, Reid introduced a measure to preserve the Hyde amendment, which blocks federal funding for abortion, while preventing Stupak’s amendment from expanding restrictions. Sixty votes are required in order to proceed with a health-care reform bill with Reid’s provision intact. Now that the two most anti-abortion Democrats in the Senate, Bob Casey and Ben Nelson, have backed off their initial demand for a version of Stupak’s measure in the Senate’s health-care bill, Reid’s provision seems like a lock.

Gillibrand is confident that any Republican attempt to re-insert Stupak (Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah is expected to lead the initiative) will be soundly defeated. In order to restore the anti-abortion measure, another 60 votes would be required. In the Democratic-controlled chamber, that is considered a near-impossibility. “If Hatch intends to fight to get more discriminatory language like Stupak into the bill, we’ll have the votes to stop it, because we’ll be playing defense at that point,” said Gillibrand’s press secretary, Matt Canter.

Gillibrand’s work against the Stupak amendment marked one of her most public initiatives since she was appointed this year to fill the seat held by Hillary Clinton, who left the Senate to become secretary of State. Flanked by feminist icon Gloria Steinem, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and a “who’s who” of reproductive-rights advocates at a November 16 press conference, Gillibrand delivered an impassioned denunciation of the amendment, warning that its passage “would put the health of millions of women and girls at grave risk.” Soon after the press conference, liberal advocacy groups NARAL and People for the American Way delivered an anti-Stupak petition with nearly 100,000 signatures to Reid’s office.

Amy Siskind: Nancy Pelosi, Feminist NightmareWhen Gillibrand was first named as Clinton’s replacement, her views on hot-button issues like immigration stirred deep concern among national progressives and liberal New York Democrats. But as soon as she moved from her rural Republican-heavy congressional district to the Senate, Gillibrand pivoted to the left. Her leading role in stripping the Stupak amendment has helped reassure the Democratic base of her progressive credentials. With residual support from independent voters from her former district and enthusiasm from liberal activists, Gillibrand is becoming a formidable candidate for the campaign next year to retain her seat.

A tough race looms on the horizon, however. The New York Daily News reported on November 19 that Republican former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was “strongly considering” running for the Senate, and would prefer to face off with Gillibrand. Giuliani may have been emboldened by a recent poll by the New York-based Siena College showing him defeating Gillibrand by six points in a hypothetical match-up (49 to 43 percent).

Even with a challenging campaign approaching, the freshman senator appears to be concentrating for now on defeating Stupak. “There are a lot of folks who won’t support this [health-care] bill at all if Stupak’s language is in there,” Gillibrand said. “So I’m going to do everything I can, I’m going to work as hard as I can, to make sure it’s not in there. And I’m optimistic that it won’t be.”

Max Blumenthal is a senior writer for The Daily Beast, writing fellow at The Nation Institute and author of Republican Gomorrah (Basic/Nation Books). Contact him at [email protected].