The real meaning of Stupak

Feminist writers and Urban Dictionary contributors wrestle with the latest assault on reproductive rights

Published November 13, 2009 10:15PM (EST)

One good thing has come of the Stupak-Pitts debacle, in which a bunch of anti-choice Democrats decided to hold the healthcare reform bill hostage until it severely restricted women's access to abortion: A lot of smart people have been writing about how the Democratic party has utterly failed women, and not for the first (or hundredth) time. Here's some of the best analysis you might have missed this week.

Kate Michelman and Frances Kissling in The New York Times:

The Democratic majority has abandoned its platform and subordinated women's health to short-term political success. In doing so, these so-called friends of women's rights have arguably done more to undermine reproductive rights than some of abortion's staunchest foes. That Senate Democrats are poised to allow similar anti-abortion language in their bill simply underscores the degree of the damage that has been done.

Many women -- ourselves included -- warned the Democratic Party in 2004 that it was a mistake to build a Congressional majority by recruiting and electing candidates opposed to the party's commitment to legal abortion and to public financing for the procedure. Instead, the lust for power yielded to misguided, self-serving poll analysis by operatives with no experience in the fight for these principles. They mistakenly believed that giving leadership roles to a small minority of anti-abortion Democrats would solve the party's image problems with "values voters" and answer critics who claimed Democrats were hostile to religion.

Judith Warner, also in The Times:

[S]ome of the more insidious elements of the long-brewing antifeminist backlash have become an accepted part of our cultural landscape.

We've seen this for years in the way we talk about motherhood: celebrating selflessness, demanding an almost inhuman degree of child-centeredness, positioning the interests of mothers in opposition to those of their children, as our political and personal debates so often do. Nowhere has this come to be more true than in the abortion debate, in which anti-choice activists have pitted the lives of unborn children against the selfishness of their mothers.

And never was the false conflict between women's self-determination and the greater good more cruelly staged than in the dilemma that confronted the pro-choice Speaker of the House last Saturday night as she faced the decision of whether to let health reform -- desperately needed by children and families -- move forward with a such a considerable blow to women's rights embedded within it, or whether to allow it to die on the vine.

Eleanor Clift in Newsweek:

Pelosi, a practicing Catholic, has withstood verbal condemnation for her views from Catholic bishops throughout her political career, but meeting with them in her office at the Capitol on Saturday, they had the votes, and she didn't.

Pelosi had no choice, and to her credit, she understood that. Rep. Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat and an Episcopalian, voiced outrage that the bishops could lobby so blatantly when their tax-exempt status should prevent such strong-arming, but those niceties were irrelevant with a make-or-break vote looming for health care.

And Katha Pollitt, ranting gloriously in The Nation:

Elections have consequences, you say? Exactly: Obama, the prochoice, prowoman candidate, won. Stupak didn't put him in the White House, and neither did the Catholic bishops or the white antifeminist welfare staters of Beinart's imagination. We did. And we deserve better from Obama than sound bites like "this is a healthcare bill, not an abortion bill." Abortion is healthcare. That's the whole point.

What makes the Stupak fiasco especially pathetic is the fumbling response from prochoicers. Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill would not be in the Senate today were it not for prochoice and feminist supporters like EMILY's List. How does she thank us? By telling Joe Scarborough that Stupak isn't so bad, that it won't affect "the majority of America"--just low-income women--and that it's "an example of having to govern with moderates." So people who'll tip healthcare reform into the trash unless it blocks abortion access are the moderates now! (McCaskill took it back later that day, but the damage was done.) If I ever give that woman another dime, shoot me.

Finally, some great minds over at Urban Dictionary are offering definitions of "Stupak," which aren't quite as evocative as Dan Savage's definition of "Santorum," but still make for fun reading. The only problem is choosing which one deserves to become official. Should it be a noun meaning "A medical condition(subset of sepsis) resulting from unsafe -- unnecessarily so -- back alley abortions as a result of the 'Stupak Amendment' to the 2009 Health Care Reform Bill"? An adjective meaning "imposing religious beliefs of one group on another, especially through legislation or financial pressure"? ("You thought that forcing schools to teach creationism was stupak? How about forcing poor women into back alley abortions? That's the stupakest thing I've ever heard.") Or a verb meaning, "To do something ridiculous, silly, moronic, stupid, asinine, idiotic, etc."? ("Wow you really stupaked that Health Care bill in the House.") I can't decide, so for now, let's just say the Democrats have really stupaked us with this stupak amendment, and when the stupak restrictions on funding for legal medical services cause women to die of stupak, it'll be on their heads.


By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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