I received this question from a friend on Facebook:
So, Jill, what happened with Nelson? You and other pro-life leaders were advising people to be “calm” and to thank him, and all indications now are that he prostituted his vote like so many others. How do you know who to trust?
My friend was speaking about a blog post I wrote Dec. 11 encouraging pro-lifers to maintain support of Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. In that post I relayed an e-mail received from Democrats for Life’s president, Kristen Day, assuring everyone Nelson was unwavering in his refusal to vote for any health-care bill excluding a Stupak-like pro-life amendment:
Dear pro-life Friends,
Senator Nelson has been a strong leader on our behalf. … I have been assured that he has not changed his opinion and has not gone back on anything he has said. Senator Nelson has taken a very hard line with the Caucus, and they are trying hard to appease him because they need his vote.
I assure you that the senator has not backed down from his commitment, and I urge all comments directed to his office be words of appreciation and support rather than words of suspect and conjecture.
If we are going to spend time contacting an office, I think we should spend our energy on Senator Casey. …
Again, Senator Nelson has not changed his position. Please issue only words of support and encouragement. Senator Casey needs to change his position. Please contact him and urge him to follow Senator Nelson’s lead.
My response to my friend?
Ultimately, all pro-lifers have when dealing with politicians are relationships, promises and legislative history.
Human beings are fallible, and Nelson’s duplicity was just another reminder our only hope is Jesus.
Up to the end Nelson was working with all the right people – Democrats for Life, Nebraska Right to Life, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, pro-life Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak.
But in the end, Nelson betrayed them all.
I feel particularly bad for Kristen, who already had a tough row to hoe as defender of pro-life Democrat legislators. Nelson’s defection coupled with Casey’s really set Democrats for Life back.
Nelson’s betrayal of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops tied as the biggest shock to me. Nelson is a Methodist, and perhaps the last-minute e-mail complaint by one of his pro-abort church leaders reoriented him (or pre-assuaged his guilt), but his disrespect of this very important spokes body for the Catholic Church on the health-care issue surprised me.
The other tie as biggest shock was Nelson’s betrayal of Stupak. It was only last Friday morning that Stupak felt confident enough in his working relationship with Nelson on the life issue in health care to report:
Stupak told ABC News he has been in touch with Sen. Nelson.
“They are holding tough and they are asking me, ‘Is the House holding tough?'” Stupak said. “Our members are holding, so we will not pass if they are putting anything but a version of our language. …”
Nelson’s office did not return calls seeking comment, but his counterparts say they will not back down anytime soon.
“This isn’t an argument on merit. This is more an argument on their pride,” Rep. Stupak said of his Democratic colleagues who opposed his amendment. “They chose this fight and lost.”
Finally, Nelson betrayed his own state’s pro-life leadership, Nebraska Right to Life, and its parent group, the National Right to Life Committee. NERTL President Julie Schmit-Albin was the activist many news outlets reported Nelson called before giving the green light to his compromise. She reported in a Sunday statement following the Senate’s passage by a 60-40 vote, including Nelson’s:
Sen. Nelson and his chief of staff, Tim Becker, called me last night at 7:30 p.m. CST as a matter of “courtesy,” to let me know he was pitching alternative language to Democratic leadership. We spoke for about 40 minutes. …
When I asked them at the outset of the conversation to include NRLC in the call, they declined and said that they were going with the language.
Sen. Nelson claimed their newly drafted concepts/language was Stupak-plus and that it would pass pro-life muster. When I countered that we had no assurance of that because we were not allowed to review the language, I was reminded that this was merely a courtesy call, not a call for our input or approval.
There is no pro-life Nebraskan more devastated by Sen. Nelson’s actions than myself. I have defended his record to Nebraskans and believed he would stand on pro-life principles as he has on numerous occasions in the past. …
According to the Associated Press on Dec. 21, following his vote, “Nelson was slammed by former allies opposed to abortion. He tells people he feels like he’s been bitten by the family dog.”
That dog would be pro-lifers, which is such an insult.
Actually, Ben Nelson is more like the family dog that inexplicably turned on and killed the family baby.