The Corner

RedState vs. National Right to Life

My friend Erick Erickson was one of those people who believed that Republicans, by supporting the Stupak amendment, missed a chance to defeat liberal health-care legislation. I think that the general rule Erickson is defending is the correct one: Don’t try to make legislation that is bad in its essentials slightly less bad. But it is a general rule, not an inviolable principle, and in this case I don’t think it applies.

Let’s assume, however, that I’m wrong (along with 99.4 percent of House Republicans), and Erickson and Rep. Shadegg are right. Even on that assumption, what was the point in continuing to fight over the question once it became clear that Republicans were not going to adopt the Shadegg strategy? If 100 Republicans had voted present and defeated the Stupak amendment in the hope of forcing a tougher choice on pro-life Democrats, I would have been able to see the point of their action even while disagreeing with it. I don’t see what Shadegg’s point was in voting present all by himself when it was clear that the amendment was going to pass by a large margin. Perhaps Shadegg was just annoyed at what he saw as the pigheaded refusal of other Republicans to see the wisdom of his advice. From the outside, it looks like pique.

That’s how Erickson’s latest salvo in this debate looks from the outside too. His post, again, contains some good advice to Republicans: They should not let themselves be content with meaningless amendments. But he adds a harsh and unjustified attack on the National Right to Life Committee. He claims that based on its past performance, it will “eke out some sort of minor compromise that undercuts the rest of the conservative movement and other pro-life groups—a compromise that does very little, but from which NRLC can raise some money.” The Stupak amendment wasn’t, in fact, a minor compromise, as evidenced by the way pro-choicers are currently reacting to it. When meaningless compromises have been broached in this debate–notably the Capps and Ellsworth amendments–it’s the NRLC that has successfully led the charge against them. From my dealings over the years with people at NRLC, I’d say that they have been more effective, and more selfless, than those at almost any other right-leaning organization. (Which doesn’t mean they’re always right, obviously.)

To say that the NRLC is right-leaning is, of course, a simplification. It is usually allied to conservatives and its cause is (arguably) conservative. But it is not simply a part of the conservative movement, and its job is not the same as those of other conservative organizations. Whatever their views on health-care legislation in general, pro-life organizations had to make the defeat of abortion funding their overriding priority. I am mystified by suggestions to the contrary.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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