Langevin and the Politics of Abortion

The Providence Journal ran a recent piece suggesting, rightly, that pro-life Congressman Jim Langevin will play a more central role in the Congressional tussle over health care reform and abortion than Congressman Patrick Kennedy.

Langevin was among a small group of representatives who tried to work out a compromise that would prevent abortion from scuttling health care reform, only to watch that compromise fall apart on the eve of the House vote. Instead, a strong anti-abortion amendment, the Stupak Amendment, wound up passing - pulling pro-life Democrats into a coalition that narrowly passed the bill, and outraging pro-choice advocates in the process.

The Senate is expected to pass a bill more acceptable to pro-choicers, setting the stage for a showdown between the two chambers. The ProJo piece concludes: "The question for Langevin, as a prominent opponent of abortion, is whether he will work with other abortion foes for strong anti-subsidy language when the final House-Senate compromise is being crafted."

But it says here that Langevin will stay as far from any push for strong anti-abortion language as possible. He has staked out a compromise position for months - out of principle, perhaps (health care reform must pass), but also out of political calculation, no doubt.

Rhode Island, after all, is strongly pro-choice - as is Langevin's opponent in next year's Democratic primary, Betsy Dennigan. And while the incumbent is the odds-on favorite to win that race, nothing would do more to upend the contest than handing Dennigan ammunition on the choice issue. Abortion is the primary line of demarcation between the two.

Joy Fox, a spokeswoman for Langevin, said the congressman is waiting to see what the Senate will do, but "still feels very strongly about not letting any issue" - read, abortion - kill health care reform.

This will be a tricky issue for the Congressman. There are questions of principle and politics. And in the end, if hard-liners on either side of the issue get strong language attached to the bill, he will have to cast a difficult vote. Indeed, it is in his interest to push hard for a compromise so that he can avoid such a tough vote. And if he can't get that compromise, well, he'll be left to make the case that he tried.

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