GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The national health care reform debate took a new turn this week when a northern Michigan Democrat announced her intention to challenge Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich, for his seat in the upcoming Democratic primary. Stupak, an anti-choice Democrat, is known for blocking progress on health reform by demanding strong abortion language in the final bill creating new barriers to access the medical procedure, his critics charged.
Last week on ABC's "Good Morning America" Stupak announced his intention to kill health reform if anti-abortion language he approves doesn't appear in the bill. Stupak described the language on abortion in the health reform package already passed by the Senate last December, which leaves current prohibitions on federal funding for abortion unchanged, as "totally unacceptable."
As news of a potential challenge in the Democratic primary began to leak out, however, Stupak changed his tune. Last Monday, March 8, he told AP, "“The president says he doesn't want to expand or restrict current law. Neither do I."
"That's never been our position," he said, backing off his earlier remarks. "So is there some language that we can agree on that hits both points – we don't restrict, we don't expand abortion rights? I think we can get there.”
Tuesday, March 9, Connie Saltonstall, a Democrat from Charlevoix, Mich., announced her intention to run against Stupak in the Democratic primary after supporters gathered the necessary signatures to get her on the ballot.
Saltonstall is a former teacher and now runs a research firm. She is clearly not a Washington insider and has deep ties to Michigan's 1st Congressional district.
In a statement, Saltonstall said that her campaign stems from the fact that Stupak has let his constituents down.
"Bart Stupak has threatened to block health care reform unless the amendment that bears his name is included in the final bill," the statement said. "I believe that he has a right to his personal, religious views, but to deprive his constituents of needed health care reform because of those views is reprehensible."
Congressional leaders have offered a new round of health reform proposals in order to re-start the legislative process. Democratic leaders are now waiting to see if these new proposals can become part of a final package or if the House will have to vote on the Senate version passed last December. Media reports indicate that House leaders are uncertain about when a vote will be taken.
Labor and health care activists are demanding speedy passage of a reconciled bill.
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