To the Honorable Members of the House Republican Steering Committee:
There is no committee of the House of Representatives that has policy and oversight jurisdiction over as many areas of concern to the pro-life movement as the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. These include major federal health programs (most of which involve abortion policy issues), regulation of biomedical research (including research involving human embryos), and regulation of drugs (including abortion-inducing drugs), to name just a few. Most of these matters fall within the jurisdiction of the Subcommittee on Health.
The chairmen of the full committee and of the Health Subcommittee will manage numerous pieces of legislation that implicate pro-life priorities. They will also wield broad oversight authority and command very formidable staff resources. It is, therefore, critical that the leadership of this committee reflect the commitment to pro-life policies that are held by the great majority of the Republican Conference, including nearly all of the incoming Republican freshmen.
It has been widely reported that Congressman Fred Upton is the frontrunner for the full committee chairmanship. This prospect raises the gravest concerns from the pro-life perspective. Mr. Upton recently said, “I’ve always considered myself pro-life.” (Hugh Hewitt interview, November 9, 2010). But, regrettably, this self-characterization in many respects cannot be squared with the record. It is serious distortion to characterize Mr. Upton’s overall voting record, and his underlying policy positions, as “pro-life.”
When the 112th Congress convenes, Mr. Upton’s career score (62%), on NRLC- scored floor votes, will be the sixth lowest of any member of the Republican Conference. Of even greater significance is the fact that most of the pro-life issues on which Mr. Upton has taken the wrong position are issues that fall squarely within the jurisdiction of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Space does not allow us here to provide a comprehensive summary of those issues and votes, because Mr. Upton has voted against the NRLC position on 61 roll call votes on the House floor, a total exceeded by only two other House Republicans. What follows is for purposes of illustration, but is far from exhaustive.
When the biotechnology industry or other researchers have embraced methods that conflict with respect for the sanctity of human life, Mr. Upton has usually come down on the wrong side. During the Administration of President George H.W. Bush, Mr. Upton was the most prominent House Republican among the active opponents of the President’s ban on federal funding of research using tissue obtained from induced abortions. Mr. Upton’s very public campaign against the President’s pro-life position included a “Dear Colleague” letter, interviews, public pleas to the President, and so forth.
More recently, Mr. Upton consistently voted for bills to overturn President George W. Bush’s prohibition on federal funding of research that requires the killing of human embryos. (Most recently, roll call no. 443, June 7, 2007.) Even worse, in 2007, Mr. Upton was one of only 14 Republicans to vote for a bill (H.R. 2560) authored by Diana DeGette that would have codified a “clone and kill policy” (i.e., that would have allowed the creation of any number of human embryos, by cloning, for use in biomedical research – raising the specter of what President Bush aptly termed “human embryo farms”) (roll call no. 439, June 6, 2007). Fortunately, this “clone and kill” bill was defeated, since even many supporters of embryonic stem cell research were unwilling to acquiesce in the deliberate creation of human embryos for the purpose of research.
Throughout his career in the House, Mr. Upton has been a strong defender of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. During the administration of President George H.W. Bush, Mr. Upton was a prominent supporter of Democratic-led attempts to overturn pro-life regulations governing Title X that were issued by that Administration.
In 2007 and again in 2009, Mr. Upton voted against amendments, offered by Mr. Pence, which would have denied federal Title X funds to Planned Parenthood. (See roll call no. 684, July 19, 2007, and no. 643, July 24, 2009.) The Planned Parenthood empire is a major recipient of federal funds and there is a crying need for energetic oversight of some of the activity that this funding fosters – yet it is most implausible that Mr. Upton’s heart will be in such oversight or in necessary legislative reforms.
The committee has jurisdiction over the FDA, which periodically deals with issues of acute concern to the pro-life movement. During the Clinton Administration, Mr. Upton three times voted against amendments, offered by then-Rep. Tom Coburn, that would have prevented the FDA from approving the abortion pill, RU486. (See roll call no. 173, June 8, 1999; no. 260, June 24, 1998; and no. 373, July 10, 2000.)
Mr. Upton’s unsatisfactory positions on pro-life issues have not been limited to matters that fall within Energy and Commerce jurisdiction. During the Administration of President George W. Bush, one of the major pro-life debates in Congress was over this question: If, during commission of a violent federal crime, a criminal attacks a pregnant woman and kills her unborn child, does that crime have one victim, or two? Polls showed that about 80% of the public said “two victims,” but Mr. Upton’s answer was “one victim” – he twice voted for the Lofgren Substitute, which would have codified the doctrine that such a crime has only one victim. (See roll call no. 464, September 30, 1999, and roll call no. 88, April 26, 2001.)
It is perhaps not surprising that Mr. Upton was reluctant to recognize the unborn child as a member of the human family, even when he or she is killed during commission of a violent federal crime. Perhaps he felt that such a legal recognition would be in tension with his underlying policy position on abortion, which he expressed as follows in a form letter to constituents in 1990: “As I have stated before, my position is that the government should restrict abortions after the point of viability, when a fetus can survive outside of the womb. Before the point of viability, however, I believe that the decision of whether or not to obtain an abortion is a deeply personal, religious and moral issue that should remain with a woman and her family, and not be controlled by the government.”
We acknowledge that Mr. Upton has voted pro-life on a number of significant issues, including curbs on direct federal funding of abortion. Moreover, in recent weeks he has stated his intent to actively move certain pieces of key pro-life legislation. But these statements do not greatly comfort us, in light of the 24-year record summarized above. If, however, the Health Subcommittee were to be chaired by a Member with a long history of bold leadership on pro-life issues, our objections to a prospective Upton chairmanship would be greatly mitigated. Most senior Republicans on the subcommittee have good voting records, but there is one who has made the protection of the sanctity of innocent human life the cornerstone of his service in the House, and that is Congressman Joe Pitts, the chairman of the Values Action Team.
In conclusion: Because Mr. Upton’s record demonstrates a disagreement with pro-life policies on multiple critical issues that fall within the jurisdiction of the Energy and Commerce Committee, we urge you to withhold support for his ascension to the chairmanship, unless and until there is assurance that the Health Subcommittee will be chaired by Mr. Pitts, and unless all of the Republican vacancies on the committee will be filled by Members who are firmly committed to pro-life positions.
Douglas Johnson Legislative Director
Correction: This article originally stated that the NRLC wanted Pitts to be chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. In fact, the NRLC wants Pitts to be in charge of the subcommittee on health. To clarify, the NRLC does not object to contraception funding, but simply to funding groups that perform and/or promote abortion.