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Though not a voter in the 3rd District, Ed Smetana, left, said, "Dan Lipinski is my hero."

Voters in 3rd Congressional District lack a choice on issue of abortion and women's health care

by Nadya Faulx
Nov 06, 2012


Nadya Faulx/MEDILL

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Chicago) is one of only two pro-life Democrats representing Illinois.

Nadya Faulx/MEDILL

Dan Lipinski's position on abortion, in his own words.

Pro-choice voters in the 3rd Congressional District took to the polls Tuesday faced with a tough choice for House representative: pro-life incumbent U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Chicago), or pro-life Republican Richard Grabowski.

Decisions, decisions.

While it’s yet to be seen who wins the 3rd District seat – Lipinski is favored to win, though polls were still open at deadline – the race between the conservative Democrat and his Tea Party challenger revealed a glaring lack of a pro-choice choice.

“Women who care about access to abortion are being denied a choice in any candidate,” said Brigid Leahy, director of legislative affairs at Planned Parenthood Illinois Action. “For women voters, it is disappointing.”

In a recent interview, Lipinski laid out his pro-life stance, saying, “I believe life begins at conception. I’ve always been very clear about that.”

Not that it needed much clarification: Throughout his four terms as Congressman, Lipinski has frequently strayed across party lines, voting to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood and limit health insurance coverage of abortions. He was notably the only Democrat to oppose Pres. Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which requires most employers to provide insurance covering contraception.

Lipinski called it “a violation of religious liberty.”

His pro-life policies run counter to the official platform, in which the Democratic Party “strongly and unequivocally supports … a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including safe and legal abortion.”

Dr. Christopher Mooney, professor of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield, said such a move is “not unusual.”

“Platforms are ignored as much as they are followed,” he said.

Mooney said candidates in the same district often hold the same view if they think it “represents the district’s best interests. … They will tailor their positions to the district. Whatever the district wants is what they will emphasize.”

Grabowski holds nearly identical views to his opponent on this issue.

“Life begins at conception,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s pretty logical. I applaud [Lipinski] on being pro-life.”

Abortion “is a non-issue” in the southwest suburbs of the 3rd District, Mooney said.

Leahy said she has seen an increase in women voters going to the polls, spurred by recent “out-of-touch” and “insulting” statements from politicians like U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-St. Louis) and Illinois’ own U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Chicago).

“The attacks against women in Congress are all things women take to heart,” she said. “We’ve seen an outpouring of support; there seems to be great interest."

She said women ultimately don’t want government involved in their “deeply personal, very complex” health care decisions.

“Women don’t turn to politicians for advice on health care,” she said. “They want to go to their experts, their doctors.”

Ed Smetana, who with the 40 Days for Life Campaign prays outside of abortion clinics around Chicago and surrounding cities, said he believes religion and government have a role in the abortion debate.

He considers himself a single-issue voter and said, “Life is the supreme issue – without it, no other rights are applicable.”

A Democrat until “the party left me,” he said he planned to vote for Mitt Romney but “could vote for a pro-life Democrat.”

Although he is not a 3rd District voter, Smetana said he hoped Lipinski would win the race.

“Dan Lipinski is my hero,” he said.

Both Leahy and Mooney pointed out that the true battleground in the abortion debate will be the Supreme Court, which issued the pro-choice ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

But Congress has passed measures restricting access to abortions and birth control, and an overwhelmingly pro-life bloc could vote for further cuts in the future.

“The Supreme Court is where abortion hangs in the balance,” Leahy said. “But there are lots of things that can be done to limit access,” including the Lipinski-sponsored HR3 prohibiting taxpayer funding of abortions.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, there were over 41,000 reported abortions in the state in 2011. There is only one Planned Parenthood Clinic in the 3rd District; funding cuts and possible closure could affect thousands of women seeking not only abortions but other vital care such as Pap smears and breast screenings, Leahy said.

Even if Congress cannot overturn the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision and pass an outright ban on abortion, “lots of things can be done to limit access. … Even if we have that right, we can’t exercise that right.”

So before the ballots were even counted, voters in the 3rd District already knew how their representative, be it Lipinski or Grabowski, will lean on such funding cuts.

“It’s unfortunate,” Leahy said, “that in the 3rd District, there is no one standing up for women.”