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Listen here to those Stupak voicemails: Free speech or hate speech? Pro-life or anti-the-living?

March 25, 2010 |  8:42 am

Brick through Democratic offices in Rochester NY holds a note saying

A coffin was placed on a Missouri Democrat Russ Carnahan’s lawn.

Gas lines were cut at the home of Virginia Democrat Tom Perriello's brother after a blogger posted the address online, thinking it to be the congressman's.

New York Democrat Louise Slaughter got a message from a caller saying snipers were being deployed to kill children of those who voted for healthcare reform.  In the nearby offices of the local Democratic Committee, a brick thrown through the front door held a note recalling Republican Barry Goldwater's 1964 infamous rallying cry: "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice."

And then there are the phone calls to Michigan's Bart Stupak, an anti-abortion Democrat who provided the margin of victory for healthcare reform after President Obama agreed to an executive order explicitly banning federal funding of abortions. Take a listen.

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The FBI is investigating the death threats. Local prosecutors, even conservative ones who opposed the healthcare legislation, are looking to bring charges. But as members of Congress prepare to go home to their districts for the Easter/Passover recess next week, with members rattled over the violence, the political questions are equally riveting.

Is this free speech or hate speech -- constitutionally protected or criminal behavior? Was it caused by the media megaphone -- those 24/7 cable-news shouting shows -- or by rabble-rousing politicians like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who after the vote posted this on Twitter: "Commonsense Conservatives and Lovers of America: Don't retreat. Instead RELOAD!" As New York Democrat Steve Israel wrote in his tweet back to her, "Reload? Is your choice of words inciteful or ignorant?" And don't forget House Republican Leader John Boehner, who said yes-vote Ohio Democrat Steve Driehaus "may be a dead man."  A spokesman explained Boehner didn't mean that literally.

Obama wasn't kidding when he thanked members of Congress for their courage.

Finally, why do some who call themselves pro-life show such little regard for the living? One caller to Stupak's office said, “Congressman Stupak, you baby-killing … I hope you bleed out your ... , got cancer and die.” Is this the language of someone who holds life dear?

For his part, Stupak is calling anti-abortion forces hypocrites for not embracing Obama's executive order. Noting that they applauded when President Bush signed an executive order limiting embryonic stem cell research, Stupak told the Catholic Daily Caller, "I question, did they want to protect the sanctity of life, or did they want to defeat healthcare?"

On the other side of the issue, women's groups are furious with Obama for giving Stupak and other anti-abortion Democrats explicit language outlawing federal funding of abortion. "He campaigned as a pro-choice president," said Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. "It really pains me to conclude that ...  health reform ... has been achieved on the backs of women and at the expense of women."

But so far the women's groups haven't threatened to kill anyone.

-- Johanna Neuman

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