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In defense of Bart Stupak

I don’t enjoy disagreeing with my friend Kathleen Parker, a delightful person whose column usually makes me smile, even when my views differ from hers. But I think her comments today on Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) -- she suggests he’s a “backstabber” who sold out the anti-abortion cause -- are deeply unfair to him. They represent a critique of Stupak that comes from the right wing of the pro-life movement that never wanted health-care reform to pass. She ignores the large number of pro-lifers who did not want the abortion issue to scuttle a chance of extending health coverage to 32 million of our fellow citizens.

The most vociferous critics of the anti-abortion movement think of it as an exclusively right-wing cause. That’s not true. In fact, the pro-life movement is politically diverse. It includes a large number of pro-life progressives who strongly support government programs to lift up the poor and assist a beleaguered middle class. Many in this camp are like Bart Stupak -- labor liberals for whom the cause of national health insurance has always been an essential commitment.

Stupak went as far as he possibly could on behalf of the right-to-life movement without actually derailing the health-care bill. For make no mistake: if the Senate health-care bill had not gotten through the House, the cause of health-care reform would have died right along with it.

Many of us insisted that, in any event, the Senate bill did not include federal financing of abortion. In my column last week, I noted this view has held by, among others, the Catholic Health Association and an important group of nuns. Here is what Commonweal, the staunchly pro-life and progressive Catholic magazine, said on this subject. (I cited these passages in a live chat this weekend, but they bear repeating here.)

One needs a good reason to oppose a bill that would cover 30 million uninsured Americans and greatly improve insurance for those who already have it. If the Senate bill did clearly authorize the federal government to pay for elective abortions, prolife Americans might have such a reason. To conclude the bill does this, however, requires one to believe that every ambiguity-every possible complication the bill doesn't explicitly address-is a ploy by pro-choice politicians to sneak abortion funding into the system. President Barack Obama and his party's leadership have promised the bill won't be used in this way. Their critics instruct us to presume that they're lying.
Critics also claim that the money the bill appropriates for community health centers is not subject to the Hyde Amendment. No doubt the bill would be strengthened with the addition of language that clearly imposes the Hyde rule on any federal money given to health centers. But since such money will in any case be channeled through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), where the Hyde Amendment obtains, there is no good reason to suppose that it will be exempt from the amendment's constraints. Besides, if HHS really could spend any part of the new funding on elective abortions, it wouldn't matter that the Hyde Amendment keeps it from using the rest of its money for this purpose: as the bill's critics never tire of telling us, money is fungible-the Hyde Amendment works only if it covers everything HHS spends. It's also worth mentioning that none of the existing health centers, which provide care to one in eight children born in the United States, has ever offered abortion services.

But Stupak was still not satisfied with the Senate language. That is why he withheld support for the bill until President Obama agreed to issue an executive order to make sure that the measure would not authorize the use of federal money for abortion. It is hard to understand how the right end of the pro-life movement can dismiss an executive order. After all, it lavishly praised President Bush for his executive order limiting stem cell research.

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 don’t 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.

By E.J. Dionne  | March 24, 2010; 5:54 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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Agreed. Although I wouldn't vote for the guy I don't see there being a net change on abortion rights or Mr. Stupak's support of reform. I think he came clean in both regards.

Posted by: hoser3 | March 24, 2010 7:18 PM | Report abuse

i agree with you. i was greatly disappointed in parker's column, which i generally enjoy reading.

Posted by: perturbedcitizen | March 24, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

Regardless of what a congress-person's position is on a major issue, placing a stake in the ground, creating a major scene and then running for a tiny fig leaf when the heat gets too hot is not the image that any district wants to see in their voice in DC. Bart & team can try to spin it and soothe it with future earmarks, but the image of what he did to his former supporters will not easily fade. He would spend his time wiser if he started to plan on a career change or retirement.

Posted by: jim692 | March 24, 2010 7:59 PM | Report abuse

Although Kathleen Parker's columns occasionally buck Republican orthodoxy (see her columns on Sarah Palin), more often than not Kathleen feels the need to burnish her wingnut bonafides and publishes the kind of claptrap that is on display today.

What Bart Stupak wanted to do was play mullah and impose his fundamentalist views on all woman whose health insurance was subsidized in ANY way by the federal government. Based on his view that money is "fungible", he would not permit these women to even pay for abortion coverage OUT OF THEIR OWN POCKETS.

That stance was unconscionable, and Kathleen Parker distorts it in a continuing act of Republican desperation to paint health reform and everyone associated with passing it as unprincipled as dishonesty.

Let's not forget that all the dishonesty, vile rhetoric and unseemly behavior has emanated from the right side of the aisle in these 15 months of debate on health care.

Posted by: sambam | March 24, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

If pro-lifers were truly pro-life they would champion health care reform since it would allow more pregnant woman to seek medical care during their pregnancy and they would defend post-natal care for the mother and the infant. These people should espouse the cause for mandatory maternity leave that would allow a woman to take maternity leave without giving up their vacation or sick time to spend time with the new baby and be able to care for it. Pro-life shouldn't just be stopping women from having abortions, it should be for allowing women to exercise their reproductive rights and if they choose to have children to be able to fully take care of them, including their health.

Posted by: missgrundy | March 24, 2010 9:30 PM | Report abuse

Of course Dionne would defend Bart Stupak! No one helped Obama and his comrades manipulate people and force them to swallow the Obamacare scam more than Bart Stupak!

Stupak turned out to be not just another Democrat, but more corrupt and spineless than most and fully open the corruption, lies, intimidation, coercion and BRIBES of Obama and his comrades.

Stupak was already stupaked (tricked) by the Stupak amendment! And then he was stupaked a second time?!

Or was Stupak in cahoots with Obama and his comrades from the beginning, distracting us with his pretend "pro-life" stand from the evil behind the whole Obamacare scam?

The house bill would have failed if not for the Stupak amendment, which cleared the way for a Senate vote.

Tricked by the amendment, some Catholics (not all) actually believed the lies of Obama and his accomplices regarding abortion coverage! Tricked by the amendment, they failed to look at the evil behind the whole Obamacare scam.

Informed Americans, however, understand that, if Obama gets his way, Obamacare will FORCE us to pay for abortions, infanticide (late-term abortion) and probably euthanasia, no matter what Obama and his comrades say to force us to swallow the scam.

Lies do not change Obama's pro-abortion and pro-infanticide (late-term abortion) stand, nor the aberrant stands of Obama's Health Care Czar Ezekiel Emanuel and Science Czar John Holdren.

Lies do not change the FACT that we are broke and Obamacare will further destroy our economy, our future and the future of our children and grandchildren.

Lies do not change the FACT that Obamacare is another scam to enslave us.

We expect our representatives to defend us from the whole Obamacare scam, not just the abortion part of the scam.

Was Stupak in cahoots with Obama and his comrades from the beginning, distracting us with his pretend "pro-life" stand from the evil behind the whole Obamacare scam?

Posted by: AntonioSosa | March 24, 2010 9:35 PM | Report abuse

Antonio, there are lies alright, and you have been either a victim of them, or you are one of the liars.Perhaps you should turn off Glenn Beck and the other Fox News commentators and read the damn bill...none of what you claim is in it!

Posted by: sherrybb | March 25, 2010 2:50 AM | Report abuse

EJ, haven't you heard?

Kathleen Parker is leaving the country with Rush Limbaugh.

Next stop, Costa Rica!

Posted by: HughBriss | March 25, 2010 3:09 AM | Report abuse

I can tell you EJ is right that not all pro-lifers are rightwing Republicans because I'm a lifelong Democrat, pro-life and Catholic, and very much in favor of universal health care. Bart Stupak took a principled stand and it's truly disheartening to see him slandered by all sides for that. It would be hard to make the point any stronger that this bill's authors intend to prohibit federal funding of abortions. Unfortunately, it looks like the Catholic bishops have fallen victim to the fear mongering of the far right. Too many prolife organizations have begun sounding like mouthpieces for the Republican Party using words like "Obamacare" in their fund-raising campaigns. Where has common sense for the common good gone? Like Bart Stupak, I believe protecting the underdog should include the unborn and that health care is a human right. That used to be allowed.

Posted by: Flan1 | March 25, 2010 4:30 AM | Report abuse

While I am pro-choice, I understand and respect Stupak's commitment to the pro-life cause. I admire his principled compromise which (in my opinion) does NOT diminish his pro-life credentials and at same time evidences compassion for the needs of our youngest citizens AFTER the hour of their birth. I think his balanced concern for ALL life distinguishes him from those adamant and strident pro-life practitioners whose protection for the unborn, while admirable in intent, often contrasts starkly with their disinclination to help during the lifelong journey that follows.

Posted by: TruthTold1 | March 25, 2010 4:48 AM | Report abuse

The man knew what he was agreeing to was worthless and meant nothing. How can you defend him?

Posted by: ProudAmerican1 | March 25, 2010 7:04 AM | Report abuse

For the most part, pro-life perspectives on the Senate bill and abortion track closely with the ideology of those offering the perspective.

Most pro-life (on abortion) groups are dominated by conservative Republicans. So they have a strong bias against government help for the poor. Republicans were 100% against health care reform, so it is not surprising that the right wing anti-abortion groups try to put a pro-abortion spin on the Senate bill, although it is very hard to support their claims from the language and legislative history of the bill.

Similarly, pro-lifers with a strong bias for government measures to help the poor almost all see the Senate bill as having strong abortion restrictions. Interestingly, though, this interpretation of the bill agrees with that of NOW and several other pro-choice groups who are publicly distressed at the success of pro-lifers in restricting abortion in health care reform.

Progressive pro-lifers are hailing victory. One wonders if right wing anti-abortion leaders really believe this is a pro-abortion bill or if they are actually motivated by ideological objection to health care reform.

It is well documented that many women have abortions out of economic desperation, and would prefer to have their babies live if they could see how it was feasible. It seems logical that providing them medical care and new assistance for pregnant women ($250 million worth in the Senate bill) will result in many women feeling less desperate and more able to have and raise their children rather than have abortions. So it is reasonable to expect that enactment will result in a reduction of abortions.

Posted by: BillSamuel | March 25, 2010 8:24 AM | Report abuse

He didn't 'Backstab' the Anti-Abortion folks. He Backstabbed himself. He backstabbed CHRIST. Pro-Life is a RELIGIOUS BELIEF. It's not a CHOICE. "I think I'll have Eggs for breakfast. I think I'll have Orange juice. Ya know what? I'm gonna be Pro-Life today."
You're Pro-Life because the Lord COMPELLS you to be.
JESUS says: "Suffer the little Children, come unto ME." He doesn't say: "Slice them to pieces in their Mothers' Wombs."
By PRONOUNCING his Pro-Life Stance. By USING IT to get VOTES. He used CHRIST. He used his CHRISTIAN FAITH as a TRICK. He SPITS IN THE FACE of CHRIST, with his actions. And this IDIOT - Dionne - thinks he's a great guy.
And he did it for MONEY. He did it for some PIECES OF SILVER.
JESUS said: "For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world ($700,000 for Airport Repairs)and lose his IMMORTAL SOUL?"
I guess Bart Stupak will find out.

Posted by: GoomyGommy | March 25, 2010 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Bart Stupak made himself look like an idiot at best, a Judas at worst, except that he got no 30 pieces of silver. He sold out for a worthless piece of paper.

As for the folks at Commonweal, "the staunchly pro-life and progressive Catholic magazine," they should stop drinking the kool-aid and see Mr. Obama for what he is, a complete tool of the abortion machine and devout Alinskyite who is prepared to do anything and everything in his power to advance "the cause of equality," as he and his abortioneering pals define "equality."

Study the man's track record at

Posted by: lexcathedra | March 25, 2010 9:01 AM | Report abuse

Here. Here.

Posted by: elritchey | March 25, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

I don't see Stupak as mean-spirited, or betraying his cause of pro-life, but I do see him as extremely naive, not very knowledgeable about the effectiveness of Executive Orders and how they do not trump a written law and how they can be easily deleted as witness President Obama's reveral of the Bush Executive Orders. I think that Stupak just made a mistake because of his lack of knowledge or his desire to please his President. He certainly was not thinking of the pro-life stand that he claims to take. He's abandoned that stand so let's not hear anymore from the pro-life Stupak on that subject. He gave up that stance when he caved in to Obama's pledge of an Executive Order. Spineless might describe Stupak. He's not a man of his convictions!

Posted by: murzek1 | March 25, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

Stupak didn't take money or campaign money for voting yes. The Presdient signed an executive order reenforcing Stupak's concern that federal funds would be spent on abortion, which is what he wanted.

And for this his life is being threatened? For this his family is being threatened?Those of you who don't want insurance reform can disagree, but how can you support this insane violence? I heard some of the phone messages. They were not only obscene but barely literate.

What part of the bill don't you like? The extension of insurance for kids up to 26? The stopping of not covering people with pre-existing conditions? The 35% tax break for small business who provide insurance? Allowing people to buy into the insurance exchange open to Federal employees including congress? The insurance mandate that, by the way, was a Republican idea, and also the penalties for not buying insurance were removed so people who don't have insurance can go to the emergency room for free medical care if they have appendicitis?

And if you disagree with some of these issues, is it worth injuring people over it? Imagine if people who opposed the Iraq war behaved like this. They would have been jailed with out charge and without trial.

This is the kind of tactics Al Quada uses.

Posted by: rlritt | March 25, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Dionne quoted Commonweal as saying, " If the Senate bill did clearly authorize the federal government to pay for elective abortions, prolife Americans might have such a reason [to oppose the Dems' health care legislation]." If Commonweal used the word "might", it shows how unfaithful it is to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Contributing to the deaths of 1.5 million children a year through abortion assistance IS a MANDATORY reason to a faithful Catholic (per the Magisterium and the Catechism) - the point is beyond legitimate debate (not that that fact ever stopped liberals/progressives/leftists from doing so.)

Posted by: DoTheRightThing | March 25, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Stupak has played up his pro-life credentials for the sake of getting elected. But now we know it's nonsense. At best, he is a confused man. If you truly understand that a child in-utero is actually a human being then there are no circumstances under which you would "compromise" in allowing him or her to be intentionally killed.

Can one imagine saying one was actually pro-Jewish in Nazi Germany while voting for a bill that partially funded the gas chambers because the bill also contained an otherwise great economic plan and health insurance plan that would benefit Jews and others?

Stupak is not truly pro-life, but he has used the issue to secure needed votes for election. And this video makes clear that he was willing to sacrifice the defense of unborn children for the sake of this bill all along.

Posted by: MikeWF1 | March 25, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

>What part of the bill don't you like?

Uh....just the part where we cannot afford it (without raising taxes incrementally but consistently from here forward).

Other than that dude, 'tis good to go!

Posted by: JammyJam1 | March 25, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

EJ, Buddy, Since when did an Eagle Scout (Stupak)decide its ok to kill babies in the womb. As far as I know they don't get a merit badge for abortion.

Posted by: JJfireman | March 25, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

>Imagine if people who opposed the Iraq war behaved like this. They would have been jailed with out charge and without trial.

You really want to revisit those times? I guess Code Pink was merely a figment of my imagination...perhaps nothing more than a bit of undigested beef as Dickens wrote; the protesters at the military families' funerals were perhaps just an underdone potato?

It appears, Dr. Watson, that I merely dreamed up all the inanities and perfidies committed by the left.

Posted by: JammyJam1 | March 25, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Stupak has played up his pro-life credentials for the sake of getting elected. But now we know it's nonsense. At best, he is a confused man. If you truly understand that a child in-utero is actually a human being, then there are no circumstances under which you would "compromise" by allowing him or her to be intentionally killed or by providing federal funding for it!

Can one imagine seriously arguing that one was actually pro-Jewish in Nazi Germany while belonging to the Nazi party and voting for a bill that partially funded the gas chambers because the bill *also* contained an otherwise great economic plan and health insurance plan that would benefit Jews?

Stupak is not truly pro-life, but he has used the issue to secure needed votes for election. And this video [below] makes clear that he was willing to sacrifice the defense of unborn children for the sake of this bill all along.

Posted by: MikeWF1 | March 25, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Stupak is a phony and a wuss.

Posted by: mlemac | March 25, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Please spare us this nonsense. Bart Stupak's integrity vanished the moment he voted for this bill. \

As for the statement that we are NOT TO BELIEVE that any item not explicitly addressed in this monstrosity is simply a ploy to sneak in coverage for abortion funding is laughable. This is a bill of 2500 plus pages and a simple statement declaring abortion will not be funded is not included. How ignorant do you think the public is.

As for Obama PROMISING not to use the bill in this would be laughable if not so depressing. He has a record of broken promises and lying which to a devotee of Marxism such as yourself find acceptable

Posted by: Keeptrying | March 25, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Stupak is a duped tool of Obama's Chicago thug politics. The excutive order Obama wrote is a worthless piece of paper. It cannot prevent the use of federal money for abortion. The HC bill is the law, Obama's bribe to Stupak cannot over ride the Congressional law. I just have to think that Obama and Stupak know this. So was it the money for airports in Stupaks district that bought his vote? Obama has bought the honor and character of much of Congress. So Stupaks character, honesty, honor, and principles were bought and bought cheaply and dishonestly. That's the liberal political way.

Posted by: DrPepper1 | March 25, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse


if you are pro-life at what point do the unborn actually take priority? Nearly everyone has a high affinity for life...until it becomes inconvenient. For men, when it means no playboy lifestyle. For women, when it means changing your life plan. For politicians, when it means disappointing your party.

This is all moral three card monte. There is no desire to help the unborn. Plausible deniability is not a virtue.

Posted by: tz12341 | March 25, 2010 9:45 PM | Report abuse

The pro abortion crowd (Planned Parenthood, NARAL, et al) angrily condemned the original Stupak/Pitts amendment. With it gone, and the Executive Order in place, they are giddy. Clearly, there is a huge dropoff in protection for the unborn between the amendment and the Executive Order.

Rep Stupak, how do you call yourself prolife when you vote for legislation that will result in government funding of abortions, and increase the number of little ones who die?

Posted by: Aberdeen1 | March 26, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

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