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Stupak Amendment Becomes Campaign Issue In Massachusetts

The first Congressional campaign in a post-Stupak environment is happening in Massachusetts, where four Democrats are waging a primary to succeed the late Ted Kennedy. And Stupak – and the abortion issue – has begun to play a central role.

It started flaring up when Martha Coakley, the state Attorney General and the current front-runner in the race, announced that she wouldn’t have voted for the health care bill because it restricted choice. Michael Capuano (D-MA), who voted against the Stupak amendment and then for the final bill, at first called Coakley’s quote “manna from heaven” and criticized her rigidity, but then within 24 hours changed his mind and vowed to vote down any conference report with the Stupak language intact.

Now a third candidate is treading into these waters. Steve Pagliuca, a co-owner of the Boston Celtics and trailing Coakley in the latest Suffolk poll of the race (Coakley has 44%, Pagliuca 17% and Capuano 16%), is running radio ads making the same argument Capuano initially made.

Pagliuca, without specifically naming the two, accuses them of jeopardizing the passage of the hotly contested health care bill that is making its way through Congress.

By a razor-thin margin, the House last weekend passed its version, which included a controversial amendment that would prohibit federally subsidized insurance plans from paying for abortions in most cases.

“Two of my opponents for the US Senate are putting this landmark legislation at risk,” Pagliuca says in the 60-second ad. “The next senator from Massachusetts represents a vital 60th vote to provide health care to over 30 million Americans who don’t have it, and to help lower spiraling health care costs.”

Pagliuca says he would not “turn my back” on the uninsured families and individuals who he says “face bankruptcy, illness, and even death because they lack adequate health care coverage.”

If Pagliuca thought there would be a gender gap in the voting before, he should watch his numbers over the next few days. Capuano did, and he quickly got in line. Pagliuca might want to study up on public opinion of the health care bill – and the choice issue – among Massachusetts Democrats.

Interestingly enough, after joining Coakley in the vow to block the health care bill if it restricts a women’s right to choose, he received the endorsement of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose first presumable priority is to get a health care bill passed.

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David Dayen

David Dayen