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Many Previously Pro-Choice Dems Voted for Stupak Amendment

When I first learned that the Stupak Amendment, which would prevent abortion from being covered under health care plans included in the health care insurance exchanges, had passed by a 240-194 margin in the House, I assumed that something like the following happened: anybody who was either pro-life or who disapproved of the health care bill in general had voted for it.

Certainly, that description is apt for the half-dozen or so generally pro-choice Republicans, all of whom voted both for the Stupak Amendement and against the health care bill. But it doesn’t really hold for the Democrats.

Rather, I was surprised at the number of Democrats who have solid pro-choice voting records but who nevertheless voted for Stupak Amendment. And the vast majority of these Democrats voted for, not against, passage of the underlying health care bill.

The below chart lists the ‘yea’ votes on Stupak among those representatives who had a rating of 67 in 2007-08 according to Planned Parenthood, and a rating of 33 or lower according to the National Right to Life Committee. (Note: no freshmen representatives are listed on this chart as they have not been rated yet.)

As you can see, 17 of the 20 Democrats who fell into this category voted for final passage of the health care bill. So what gives?

I’m sure there are idiosyncratic explanations in a number of cases, but I take this as a sign that they’re worried about the re-election environment they’ll face in 2010. 11 of the 20 pro-choice Democrats who voted for Stupak reside in districts that are rated as vulnerable according to Cook Political (note: candidates who are leaving the House to run for Senate or governor are rated based on those races instead). And, interestingly, they seem to think that a pro-choice vote would render them more vulnerable than a pro-health care vote, even though the pro-choice position is generally more popular than the health care bill on the table at the moment (although some recent polls have shown the pro-choice position losing ground).

Certainly, on health care, some of this may be a consequence of the logic that James Carville and others have espoused: Democrats know — or believe — that they’ll be damned if don’t pass a health care bill, so why not take the chance that things will turn out OK if they do? But there may also be something more here. Whereas the pro-life (anti-choice) movement is very well organized and has a long history of delivering votes, the anti-health care movement is somewhat disjointed, seemed to be limited in its electoral reach in NY-23, and carries a lot of baggage — Glenn Beck, Michelle Bachmann, town hall screamers, and the like. And it may also be revealing of how they perceive their own base: whereas health care is a sine qua non for most Democratic base voters, they seem to be betting that the pro-choice position might no longer be.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.