Pro-life groups had mixed reactions Friday when Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak announced his intention to retire after finishing his term.
"For two decades Rep. Bart Stupak stood firm for the pro-life cause," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. "It is a shame that he will leave Congress remembered more for his vote on the Obama health care bill, the largest abortion promoting piece of legislation in the last 30 years."
Stupak had upset pro-life leaders and activists in March when he made a last-minute deal with President Obama that ultimately helped pass the health care bill. In exchange for Stupak's vote, Obama issued an executive order to make clear that no federal money would pay for abortions.
Despite the move, pro-life groups accused Stupak of betraying them, saying that an executive order does not have the force of law.
In the year leading up to passage of health reform, Stupak had forcefully led a band of pro-life Democrats in the House that stood up to leaders in their party over abortion funding. They had declared that they would not support any health care bill unless it clearly stated that no tax dollars would go towards funding elective abortions.
The House version of the bill had included the Stupak-Pitts amendment, which clearly banned all federal funding of elective abortions in public and private plans. But the final version of the health care bill did not contain such language, causing uproar among the pro-life community.
Stupak tried to assure pro-life groups that the executive order he dealed for would block federal funds from paying for elective abortions. But pro-life groups argue that the order does not have such power.
"As a national pro-life leader for many years, I have been proud of Bart Stupak for always standing on pro-life principles," said Jane Abraham, Susan B. Anthony List general chairman, in a statement Friday. "I was deeply saddened by his recent decision to walk away from those principles and support federally funded abortion.
"With Rep. Stupak's decision to retire I look forward to aggressively working with a pro-life candidate in Michigan's first district," she added.
Stupak told a group of reporters in Michigan on Friday that it was "time to begin a new and exciting chapter" in his life that includes spending more time with his family.
"We finally accomplished what I set out to do 18 years ago. We passed comprehensive national health care reform," he said. "Throughout the past year, I've worked alongside my colleagues to achieve health care reform, and I'm proud to have helped bring it across the finish line."
The nine-term Democrat said he will try to help his party retain its seat in the November election.
Stupak is a popular Democrat in a conservative district. Democratic leaders are worried that the party will lose Stupak's seat to a Republican candidate this fall.