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Ostracizing Stupak

Let's get one thing straight -- this isn't true:

The only way to prevent public funding for abortion was for [Stupak's] amendment to be added to the Senate bill.

Prolifers were understandably excited about Rep. Bart Stupak's amendment to the House bill. Recall the standard we started out with: any health-care reform bill would have to preserve the "status quo" -- that is, it would have to prohibit direct federal funding for abortion -- in order to be acceptable to prolifers. Stupak's amendment did that. But it wasn't the only possible solution. As we've continued to point out around here, the Senate bill also included language that met the "status quo" requirement. Compared to Stupak, perhaps, it looked like a compromise -- but preserving the status quo is itself a compromise. There was no reason, other than political expediency, to make Stupak's amendment the baseline for what an acceptable bill had to look like. But once the Senate bill passed and was sent to the House, adding Stupak's amendment to the Senate bill was a surefire way to stop health-care reform altogether. Which is, in large part, why it became such a popular cause among people who preferred not to see health-care reform pass.The claim I quoted above is from today's Washington Post column by Kathleen Parker. In her construction, Stupak is a "backstabber" who betrayed the prolife cause. "Ultimately, he was weak and overwhelmed by raw political power," she pronounces. It's a nasty column, and our friend (and her colleague) E. J. Dionne politely called her out for it on the Post's "PostPartisan" blog today. His defense of Bart Stupak is worth a read (especially since he has the good taste to keep on quoting Commonweal). It concludes:

The only people who can see Stupak as a sellout are those who were willing to see health reform die altogether. Kathleen and I, from what we have written, probably take a different view of the merits of the health-care bill that Obama signed into law. We will have plenty of time in the coming years to argue about which of us was right on the health-care issue itself. But I dont think that difference justifies an attack on Stupak, who was prepared to enrage a majority of his Democratic colleagues to advance the pro-life cause that has been dear to him throughout his congressional career. What he did at the beginning of this battle and what he did at the end took courage.

He's right that her attack on Stupak is "deeply unfair" -- he might have added "incoherent" and "overly dependent on mismanaged metaphors." Let's take a look!

In her opening, Parker accuses Stupak of "surrendering in exchange for a fig leaf, the size of which varies according to the degree of emasculation of said legislator and/or as a reflection of just how stupid people are presumed to be." Classy imagery! Then, with the "emasculation" joke out of the way, she moves on to sanctimony:

Poor Bart Stupak. The man tried to be a hero for the unborn, and then, when all the power of the moment was in his frail human hands, he dropped the baby. He genuflected when he should have dug in his heels and gave it up for a meaningless executive order.

Wait, gave what up? The baby? Was he still holding the baby when he genuflected? Isn't "genuflecting" something good Catholics are supposed to do? And is the baby a metonym for "the unborn" supposedly betrayed by Stupak, or is that cute phrasing just an unfortunate coincidence? Parker goes on expressing her sorrow for "poor Bart Stupak":

Now, in the wake of his decision to vote for a health-care bill that expands public funding for abortion, he is vilified and will forever be remembered as the guy who Stupaked health-care reform and the pro-life movement.

"Forever," that is, if Parker's attempt to turn "Stupak" into a verb catches on! (It probably won't, because she says it's equivalent to "backstabber," which isn't a verb; and in the sentence above, the only way it could apply to both HCR and "the prolife movement" is if it meant something like "championed.")Parker spends her entire column heaping opprobrium on Stupak, who got drunk with power and willingly deceived his supporters. Then, in her penultimate paragraph, she says:

[D]emonizing Stupak seems excessive and redundant given punishments to come. Already he has lost a speaking invitation to the Illinois Catholic Prayer Breakfast next month.

Oh, well, if he's racking up such losses, she's right, there's no need to go calling him names. Or laboriously attempting to turn his given name into an insult. We're classier than that. It's Parker's final flourish that really makes this column memorable, though. See if you can count the reasons this should have been spiked:

[Stupak's] political future, otherwise, may have been foretold by a late-night anecdote.After the Sunday vote, a group of Democrats, including Stupak, gathered in a pub to celebrate. In a biblical moment, New York Rep. Anthony Weiner was spotted planting a big kiss on Stupak's cheek.To a Catholic man well versed in the Gospel, this is not a comforting gesture.

Poor Kathleen Parker. Someone should have saved her from publishing that.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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Mollie - I read her piece this morning over breakfast, and nearly spat out my Honey-Nut Cheerios.

Btw, the same editorial page this morning had a piece by Sen. Dick Durbin ( ), which included this quote, one of a bulleted list of benefits of the health care legislation:"Respect for life - federal funding for elective abortions will be prohibited "Thus, two articles on the same page of the newspaper, one claiming that abortions will be prohibited, the other (Parker's) claiming it is "a health-care bill that expands public funding for abortion,"I try to be a both/and kind of guy, but they can't both be right.

First, according to Stupak's own account, Pelosi had the votes to pass the bill without Stupak and the handful of people who would have voted with him. (Some Democrats who voted no were going to vote yes if Stupak and his group voted no.) If this is true, the choice he had was the Senate bill alone, or the Senate bill plus an Executive Order. Clearly the latter is preferable. Parker doesn't even acknowledge that this might have been so.Second, Parker, makes the same logically incoherent argument so many others are making: (1) Obama can rescind the Executive Order any time he wants to, and (2) it doesn't do anything. If it doesn't do anything, what is the point of saying Obama can rescind it at any time he wants to? What would be the point of rescinding a meaningless order? Although it is not strictly analogous, it reminds me of the joke Woody Allen tells at the beginning of Annie Hall:

Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know; and such small portions."

Bart Stupak is a hero. I don't have the space or the time to give all the details as to why this is the case, but a good start would be to note this: it is impossible to calculate the importance of the public prominence of pro-life democrats (who supported health care reform) making their consistent-life arguments for the last 14 months. It is only when the pro-life movement can break out of its Republican ghetto that it has a chance to actually affect serious change. In addition, despite having the votes to pass reform without him, Pelosi and the White House gave Stupak something that is producing this kind of reaction in the extremes of the pro-abortion rights crowd:, the claim that Stupak compromised on the uncompromisable, when original House bill explicitly subsidized abortion already (in the case of rape and incest), is the height of hypocrisy. The question was what kind prudential judgment should be made in weighing the good of 31 million of the most vulnerable getting health insurance vs. the evil of some abortion being indirectly subsidized by tax dollars. People of good conscience, who are pro-life, can have an honest disagreement about this.

Progressive Catholics need to send money to Stupak for himself and his pro-life Dem. allies. they are hounded out of Congress we will be left with Peters question... 'where will we go Lord?

"It is only when the pro-life movement can break out of its Republican ghetto that it has a chance to actually affect serious change."It is my understanding that it is the position of Rep. Stupak's followers that the status quo is allegedly preserved with respect to federal funding of abortions. Are you referring to that as serious change or something else?

Charles, I agree.I don't remember if it was said here or eleswhere, but in hindsight, it seems clear that the "I-hope-he-fails" wing of conservative politics thought it had found a useful idiot in Rep. Stupak, and he proved them wrong.

NPR had a piece this morning noting Stupak, according to one GOP rep as an ally of the "most pro-abortion" president.My wife nearly spit out breakfast.The crazies in the pro-life movement are continuinhg heated rhetoric,They need to be told that they're over the top and to cut the expletive.But the anti-Obama politic wil lnot permit that!And that is really the problem! we had that video of Stupak here on Commonweal yet? If we haven't, know that it's an early video (mid 2009, I think) of Stupak explaining that he would have voted for the bill even if it had included direct federal funding for abortion.I'm guessing this video won't change anyone's mind, because I'm betting one's interpretation of it will depend on what he or she already thinks about Stupak. To someone who thinks the current language on abortion is unacceptable (while Stupak's language was acceptable) and that the EO is worthless, it'll just be evidence that Stupak never intended to hold out for the only acceptable solution. He didn't cave under pressure at the last moment; he never intended to stick to his principles in the first place, and his statements for a while there that the senate language was unacceptable to him were politically-motivated lies.To someone who thinks the current language on abortion is fine, Stupak will probably look like even more of a hero, strategically pushing until the very end before finally falling back to his real position along: that the health bill even with federally funded abortion would have been perfectly fine.

"Direct federal funding of abortion"? Sorry, no. That's not in the video.

Charles, with all due Respect, the "height of hypocrisy" is the claim that it is not possible to have a universal Health Care Bill that would protect the Right to Life of every Human Individual when we all know that it is a self-evident Truth that "all Men are created equal" and thus every Human Individual is endowed by our Creator with the fundamental, unalienable Right to Life at the moment they are brought into being at Conception. The fallacy of your argument is based on the false premise that one can preserve Human Life while destroying Human Life, simultaneously, which we all know is not consistent with protecting our fundamental Right to Life, and is the reason why elective abortion is not "health care".

Christopher, the original House bill, with the Stupak amendment, ALREADY funded abortion.Nancy, do you mean literally possible or politically possible? Also, to what are you referring by using the world 'one' in your final sentence? If you mean our nation (or any group of people) you bet 'one' can do both. Is it ideal? No. But politics is the art of the possible. The U.S. Bishops supported a bill that funded some abortions (and, for that matter, that was terrible for immigrants too) because that was the best bill that they thought had a chance to pass. With politics the moral ideal cannot always be put into practice...though that doesn't mean we shouldn't stop trying.

Charles, the reason why it is a false premise is because one performing an elective abortion on a Human Individual cannot be preserving that Human Individual's Life, simultaneously. One who is among the group of those who claim there exists a right to elective abortion, can not be among the group of those who Respect and want to protect the Right to Life of every Human Invividual. By "possible", I mean able to, as in it is possible to understand that "all Men are created equal" and thus are endowed by their Creator with the fundamental, unalienable Right to Life at the moment of Conception, if, from the beginning you understand the word "created" means "to make or to bring into existence something new", while the word "born" means to come forth from the Womb alive, after a Human Individual already exists.

Well, now that's all cleared up.

Grant--"Ok, if [...] everything I want in the bill, the final bill, I like everything in the bill, except you have public funding for abortion, and we had a chance to run our amendment, and we lost... Could I vote for health care? Yes, I still could."It seems clear to me from the video that Stupak intended to vote for the bill no matter what it said about abortion funding (provided he got a vote on that issue at some point). Did you really get a different impression?

It seems clear to me from the video that Stupak intended to vote for the bill no matter what it said about abortion funding (provided he got a vote on that issue at some point). Did you really get a different impression?Christopher,It would be interesting to hear the rest of what he said, since it's clear he wasn't finished when the video stops. Also, there is no public funding for abortion in the bill.

"Well,now, thats all cleared up."Well, not exactly, since no one is able to explain how elective abortion is Health Care. The essence of the nature of an elective abortion is that it is not possible to preserve Human Life while destroying Human Life, simultaneously,

Nancy, if you're looking for an argument you'll have to go somewhere where people disagree with you about the nature of abortion. Please quit it with the interrogations here.

Mollie, I am not looking for an argument, I am looking for an explanation as to why the focus of the debate regarding abortion in the Health Care Bill was not based on the fact that abortion is not Health Care but rather on the claim that there will be no public funding of abortion in the Health Care Bill.

OK, let me get this straight.The Stupak amendment had to be taken out of the senate version because if it remained in the senate version pro-abortion sentors would have killed it.YetFrom a pro-life perspective, the senate version is just as effective as the Stupak amendment.But thenTo get Stupak and some of his supporters to vote for the senate version the president had to sign a special EO about the senate version so that it would be acceptable.Thanks for the video link Christopher.

Just for posterity's sake, I would like to note that the winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary is Kathleen Parker: "for her perceptive, often witty columns on an array of political and moral issues, gracefully sharing the experiences and values that lead her to unpredictable conclusions."Talk about unpredictable conclusions!

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