Bart Stupak: Hatred Not Worst Part of Health Care Drama

Michigan congressman Bart Stupak, who played a pivotal role in the passage of the health care bill, said there is something worse than the hatred – including death threats and angry calls to his house – he experienced because of his support for the legislation.

"Ultimately, what stings the most isn't the hatred," wrote Stupak in a column posted on the Newsweek magazine's website. "It's that people tried to use abortion as a tool to stop health-care reform, even after protections were added."

The pro-life Democrat said in the column for the magazine's May 17 issue that he has "two longstanding personal convictions": that health care is a right and federal funds should not pay for abortions.

He maintained that President Obama's executive order sufficiently safeguards against the use of federal money to pay for abortions in health care reform. Obama had assured him that the executive order is "ironclad," he said.

President Obama, Stupak and his group of pro-life Democrats worked out a last minute deal in March that exchanged the congressmen's votes in favor of the health care bill for an executive order stating that no tax dollars be used for abortions.

Stupak argued that at that point the health care bill would have passed even if they voted against it. He said his coalition's agreement with the president was meant to "add pro-life protections" on the legislation.

Pro-life groups, however, denounced the deal, arguing that an executive order does not have the force of law and that Stupak betrayed the movement at the most critical time.

"We need statutory law," Stupak recalled the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops telling him after hearing about the deal.

The Michigan lawmaker, who has served in Congress for nearly two decades, told the USCCB that President Abraham Lincoln used an executive order to free the slaves and President George W. Bush used one to block embryonic stem cell research.

Stupak said after his call with the USCCB, which occurred shortly before the White House deal, his "relationship with the pro-life movement" changed.

He has been advised to hire security because of death threats; people have left profane messages on his home phone; groups have sponsored media ads to attack him; and he has received thousands of hate mail.

Last month, the hero-turned-enemy of the pro-life movement announced that he will not run for reelection after his current term ends.

In his column, he clarified that he has considered retiring for more than six years. He dismissed speculations that he is retiring because of intense attack by the pro-life movement.

"I was glad that I stayed to fight the bull (health care reform)," Stupak said. "Now I'm glad the fight is over."