Will Ab-Only Retire With Obey?

The nation's capitol is swirling today with talk of the impending retirement of another veteran lawmaker, David Obey (D-Wisc.). His retirement could have major implications for reproductive health issues in the House.

The nation’s capitol is swirling today with talk of the impending retirement of another veteran lawmaker. The surprise announcement by Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.), however, could have major implications for reproductive health champions. 

As chair of the House Appropriations Committee Obey’s holds sway over billions of dollars in annual federal health and human services funding.

For reproductive health advocates, Obey’s 16-year stint on the committee, and three years helming it, the Wisconsin Democrat’s retirement is bittersweet.

His legacy of marshaling support for comprehensive reproductive care, health research and HIV-AIDS support services has been marred by funding ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage programs girded by controversial and medically inaccurate religious views.

Between midnight deals to insert Title V and Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) dollars into the federal budget to the consternation of the House pro-choice caucus to whipping conservative votes with abstinence-only deal sweeteners, Obey bore the wrath of sexual health advocates.

Yet the expected political jostling among the three most likely lawmakers to lead Appropriations doesn’t signal good news for reproductive health interests.

While Obey will be gone come November pro-choice activists will still have they work cut out for them as budget hawks for theologically-driven abstinence-only programs.

Within minutes of Obey’s hastily arranged press conference, long-serving members Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Alan Mollohan (D-West Va.) and (D-Ind.) were floated as potential replacements. According to the non-partisan vote analyzer website, On The Issues, all three are considered stalwart anti-choice Democrats who caucused with Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) to derail the health insurance reform bill over abortion coverage.

Curiously absent from the leadership speculation is senior ranking member Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.) who scores a 100 percent voting record by NARAL Pro-Choice America.

For many Obey’s intransigence over Title V funding was a deal breaker for the otherwise solidly liberal politician.

Obey was first elected to the House in 1969 and has had a virtual stranglehold on the 7th district seat.

The leading Republican contender, Sean Duffy, is an Ashland County District Attorney and former MTV Real World cast member. The father of six claims on his campaign website that he “will actively support policies that offer women non-violent choices and opportunities when faced with a crisis pregnancy.”

Politico reports that Wisconsin Democrats “claim a deep bench in the sprawling district, with several state legislators expected to seriously consider jumping in. They include: state senators Pat Kreitlow, Julie Lassa, Russ Decker and Jim Holperin, along with state Reps. Donna Seidel, Ann Hraychuck and Amy Sue Vruwink.”

According to NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, the early flock of potential Dem candidates are all strong advocates of reproductive freedom.