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The Stupak Amendment: Inexcusable

November 11, 2009

I’m really so furious about the state of the American health care system, and really the entire political system to say anything intelligible right now, but in case you haven’t heard, the Stupak-Pitts Amendment , that was just passed in the house, is the most expansive restriction on women’s rights in recent history. No, really.

I find Rachel Maddow a little too sanctimonious sometimes, but here’s a segment from her show summing up why everything’s the worst:

I’m sure this has nothing to do with it, but here’s a Comparison of female elected officials by political orientation (via):


These numbers are abysmal compared to other countries, but I’m glad these women get to have their say on the house floor. Oh wait…

I forgot how white male privilege had to silence anything that threatens the patriarchy.
I’m really over this. Can we just have gender equality now please?

Feel free to leave strings of expletives in the comments.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Jill permalink
    November 12, 2009 6:14 PM

    For me, the most frustrating part about this is that I don’t know where to go from here. I’m not going to stop voting for Democrats because I believe the Democratic party otherwise represents my values and the policies that I believe will make the biggest positive difference in people’s lives. What do we do? How do we hold them accountable?

  2. cellardoor10 permalink
    November 12, 2009 11:12 PM

    I cannot fucking believe the way they treated fellow elected officials. I understand wanting to be heard, but this was fucking ridiculous. There are a few times I am ashamed of Texas, and this is one of them. Like children who can’t be bothered to wait for a moment. I myself am an interrupter when I speak – I try not to be, but sometimes it happens before I think about it – but I don’t specifically interrupt to silence people who disagree with me. Absolutely shameful.

  3. Grant permalink
    November 17, 2009 2:29 AM

    I know this doesn’t do much erase the outrage people are gonna feel over the amendment, but as a pro-life-leaning dude I get really sick of the idea that the pro-life side is just men trying to tell women what to do. Because back when I thought it was true, I felt unsure about whether I could legitimately have an opinion on the issue. But it’s not true.

    Although most female elected officials are pro-choice, the rest of the population just doesn’t break down that way. Here’s the first poll I found on a Google search: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/01/22/opinion/polls/main537570.shtml

    The numbers fluctuate a from poll to poll. I remember seeing some that had men in favor of slightly more choice than women (like that one), and some that went the other way. But I’ve yet to see a poll that makes me think there’s a legitimate power struggle between men and women over this issue. The numbers just look like people disagreeing in good faith to me.

    So I’m not here to pick a fight, especially so long after the original post. I’m all for the government paying low-income single mothers’ pregnancy-related health care bills and a robust welfare program, and all kinds of real nice maternity leave packages, and so forth. I’m also not a “no abortion under any circumstances” type. I know that’s not going to make up for it in most pro-choicers’ eyes, I’m just saying that I’m not out to keep women under my heel, and trying to refute the suggestion pro-life men are all just supporting patriarchy.

    • Becky permalink
      November 17, 2009 3:41 AM

      Thanks, Grant for that comment. I know that I really didn’t spend the time I should explaining myself on this issue, sometimes I get flippant, and thanks for reminding me not to. I think one of the problems in the debate over abortion is a lack of respect on both sides, and often a lack of respect for what a tough decision it is to make politically. My mom, for example, who’s very religious, still struggles constantly with this issue, and me myself, although I’m very pro-choice politically, know that I would never have an abortion personally. And I actually couldn’t see the CBS graphs, but in this gallup poll it does show that men and women have been historically pretty equal on the issue, although its spreading a bit today. So, while I don’t want to debate you on your pro-life position, I just want to clarify some of the things from my post:

      1. I really object to the methods of the Stupak Amendment, in terms of how it is trying to limit abortion. Abortion is legal in the United States, but they are trying to use capitalism to change that- and force insurance companies to stop covering abortions. And I think it is very scary that this is a limitation based on class, so that only the women who can afford to not use any government money for ALL health care (not just any government money for abortions as before) can now have the privilege to have an abortion. If they want to ban abortions, it should be banned for everyone.

      But the bill also is about patriarchy, even if you don’t think being pro-life is patriarchal. Because, as Female Impersonator writes,

      At the end of the day, you’re left with a tiered health care system. At the very top are men. They can purchase private insurance. They can use public funds. They can do what you want with them, within reason, and not have to worry about losing coverage.

      Quite a way below them are women paying for identical insurance except for abortion coverage, but paying much higher premiums. They cannot use public funds for anything. …

      Below them even further are women who can’t pay for the prohibitively expensive private insurance of their female peers. …

      And at the very bottom are the women who can neither pay for prohibitively expensive private insurance or out-of-pocket abortions.

      And this is the key: That no matter men’s position on abortion, they are not regulated by the system. Women are forced to make devastating choices between health care and abortions – and one of the important reasons why we have legal abortions in the first place is because women will get abortions any way, and they have to be safe.

      2. So I think you’re right that I’m being a little naive in saying that more representation of women in the political process will also mean a more pro-choice government. That is not necessarily the case. But in the end, banning abortions is a form of regulation of women’s bodies and I’m thinking it must be part of the same system where we also are highly under-represented in the political process, and while there, not always, but sometimes, are experiencing a shocking form of silencing. And I really don’t want to offend you but I think this system is patriarchy, and while many women participate in it, it is still the case that men hold the power within it – particularly in the case of making choices about women’s health.

      • Grant permalink
        November 17, 2009 12:30 PM

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Becky. For the most part, I’m right there with you. The amendment is NOT the way I want to see abortion regulated. Also, our system as it stands is definitely patriarchal. Women are under-represented in the elected body, and women’s perspectives are typically considered only secondarily, if at all.

        Although regulating abortion is currently part of a patriarchal system, I don’t think it depends on patriarchy. In other words, I don’t think Feminists for Life is self-contradictory for simultaneously aspiring to end patriarchy and to restrict abortion.

        I also don’t want to debate the merits of a pro-life position, I just want to carve out a space for it to not be considered, necessarily, part of the problem of patriarchy. At some point, the fetus becomes an infant. I imagine we agree that it’s not patriarchal to say that even the most desperate single mother who lacks access to adoption agencies and other programs should not be allowed to kill her baby. Even if patriarchy magically vanished tomorrow (Care Bear stare), I think there would still be room for good faith disagreement over when the fetus becomes an infant. That’s all.

  4. Jill permalink
    November 17, 2009 11:28 PM

    But the problem with a “good-faith disagreement over when the fetus becomes an infant” is that it’s not a solvable dilemma. We can create criteria for “life,” but we have to understand that these criteria are somewhat arbitrary, and reflect other political positions. This is not the place from which to start an honest debate.

    My problem with pro-lifers who identify as feminists is not that they personally view my body as a commodity and my fertility as a public resource. To the contrary, I’m positive that you and many people who think like you are absolutely willing to assume my fundamental worth as a person and as a woman. However, by supporting expansive (or total) restrictions on abortion, you are delivering my body into the hands of people who don’t. You can’t assume away the system. Because of the patriarchal system we live in–which will probably not provide better contraceptive access and a situation in which mothers do not have to give up their better life chances in the case of an unplanned/unwanted pregnancy–denying access to abortion results in a world where women’s life chances are subordinated to public will. Even if you have good intentions, not everyone who implements the policy that follows from them will.

    I think it’s less the position itself than the implications of the position of pro-life feminists that is patriarchal and problematic. (See, for example, basically every state that has ever taken broad control over its citizens’ reproductive lives.)

    • Grant permalink
      November 18, 2009 7:02 PM

      So Jill, this is a preliminary side matter, but I’m not sure that it’s true that the feminist pro-life position delivers anyone’s body into anyone’s hands. When a person wants an abortion, even if we scale back the times in the pregnancy when they’re available, they’ll still go to Planned Parenthood. The people who administer treatment will be the same people doing it now. I don’t need anyone to deal with anyone they’re not already dealing with.

      You might be talking about the fact that some regulators who oppose women’s rights would get their way. But the fact that some regulators who want to restrict abortion also oppose women’s rights generally should have no bearing on what you or I or anyone else thinks about any particular issue, even women’s issues. A person opposed to women’s rights might even end up supporting policy that is beneficial to women for whatever reason from time to time. This isn’t an us vs. them battle, it’s about trying to make the world a better place. Maybe I just didn’t understand what you meant by talking about delivering your body up to people who don’t care about you.

      ****end side-show****

      The main point I want to make is that I think you don’t take the question of life’s beginning’s seriously enough (not an honest place to start the debate?). For many of us with pro-life leanings, the question of life is the very heart of the abortion issue. If nobody thought a fetus was a baby until it came out of the mother, very few people would want to restrict abortion at all.

      So, I guess I’m willing to flat out say that endorsing the murder of innocent people is not a valid option to fight patriarchy. If you don’t agree, then I’m more than willing to shift the debate, but I think you’ll agree. If killing 10,000 (arbitrary big number) randomly selected mend and women per year would diminish patriarchy by some incremental amount, I doubt you’d do it. You’d try to find a more legitimate means.

      The crux of disagreement seems to be what counts as an innocent person. If you think that the fetus as stage X of the pregnancy deserves less moral worth than I do, we’re going to come up with different policy suggestions even if we’re equally anti-patriarchy. We’d have equal weight on the “fight patriarchy” side of our metaphorical decision-making scales, but I’d have more on the “don’t kill this morally worthwhile person” side. But it’s not because of opposition to patriarchy, it’s because of the question of moral worth of the fetus.

      I’m not sure why you said starting with the question of life wasn’t honest. When the crux of an issue is accessible, I feel starting with the crux is probably the most honest approach. It also seems like an intuitive starting point. If I ask “hey can I kill this organism? It’s restricting my range of life choices,” I think most people’s first question will be “Uh, is it a person, or is it like a parasite or something?” Few people would respond “Is it disparately impacting your gender? If so, go ahead and kill it, I don’t care what it is.”

      So to turn the question around, why start with patriarchy? Patriarchy is an important aspect of this debate. Where one is uncertain as to the status of the fetus, absent partrairchy, one would err on the side of not committing murder. But the question of patriarchy places some weight on the other side. However, it doesn’t seem to be a central issue. You get there once you’ve decided how much moral weight the fetus gets. But it seems like a terrible starting point. Starting there seems like question-begging obfuscation.

      So at the bottom, every policy decision is, at bottom, decided by somewhat intractable criteria that reflect and is reflected in other positions. That’s the nature of the game. If you talk about any issue long enough, you get down to largely gut-check based axioms that you can talk about and sort of influence people on, but you can’t completely resolve through sheer logical argument. These issues just happen to be right at the front in abortion. So, why not start there?

  5. November 18, 2009 8:34 PM

    It’s just not true that “If nobody thought a fetus was a baby until it came out of the mother, very few people would want to restrict abortion at all. ” Historically, restrictions on abortion have had very little to do with the notion of protecting fetal life, and everything to do with either a) regulating a medical procedure which carried risks for the mother or b) regulating female reproductive and sexual lives. I might concede that’s changed to some extent, though more along rhetorical lines than substantive ones (the very popular rape exception for abortion bans, for example, is far more consistent with a “regulation of sexual conduct” anti-abortion rationale than it is a “protection of innocent life” one).

    Meanwhile, the fact that “when does moral personhood begin” is perhaps the epitome of an intractable moral question unresolvable by rational debate seems a strong argument for trying to move conversations away from it, since by definition a discussion along that axis won’t go anywhere. You seem to be forwarding a sort of precautionary principle argument — that it would be worse to mistakenly deny fetal life if it “really” is a moral person than accepting it if it “really” isn’t, but that assumes precisely what I at least would reject — the notion that there is some objective “truth” behind the question of fetal personhood that we can discover, or at the very least, we should be guessing at. To me, that’s a non-sensical inquiry. The counterargument is that, weighing an entirely hypothetical, controversial, and unprovable harm against known, accepted, and concrete ones, we ought to weigh strongly in favor of the latter. And given two ways of resolving a controversy which admittedly possesses no rational answer, one of which would cause massive burdens on women and effectively reinforces sex inequality, and one which lifts those burdens and facilitates equality, it seems we should quite happy choose the latter, rather than try and preserve the controversy by wading around in an inextricable muck.

  6. Grant permalink
    November 18, 2009 11:22 PM

    David, I didn’t want to argue about the merits of pro-life or pro-choice. All I wanted to do was say that pro-life doesn’t imply patriarchy. But I’ll reply just this once.

    The historical note you provide does not prove that people didn’t think a fetus was a moral person. Since abortion was already regulated on less controversial grounds, they had no reason to bring it up.
    But more importantly, even if the moral personhood of a fetus is rhetoric for some people, it’s not for me or other pro-lifer I’ve talked to.

    There’s nothing inconsistent between the personhood justification and the rape exception. An important reason for criminal law is societal expression of moral outrage. We punish what we feel is wrong. You don’t criminalize the failure to be a saint–it’s hard to feel moral outrage when a woman is not saintly enough to bear her rapist’s child out of a sense of moral obligation. It’s too, too understandable and there was no other remedy; we mitigate all the way to nothing.

    More on point, any weighing of harms assumes that harms and persons are at least contextually ‘real’ within a given moral framework. Maybe there’s a continuum of personhood that the fetus develops through, but surely a blastocyst is not a person but the mother is, and at some point there is a transition. Even if you are a moral constructivist (one who thinks moral truths are relative to a given framework, not independently existing), there is a point at which you count ’em and a point at which you don’t.

    You’d surely dismiss it if I said Ginger kids didn’t count as people. That just shows that you think there can be bad answers to these kinds of questions. I don’t know why a gray area should prompt you to close your eyes by counting all potential harms as zero. That’s just a bad approach to uncertainty. In fact, I’m kind of shocked that you wrote that.

    I think we should get as much information as we can. When does the brain and nervous system develop? At which point do we think the fetus responds to outside stimuli? When does it recognize its mother’s voice? People don’t know these facts. Honestly, I don’t know all these facts. But they sure can help us guesstimate how much worth to give the fetus. Then we give it our best shot. They’re tough calls. Maybe there is no right decision because it’s so gray. Happily, most abortions occur early in the pregnancy, while the fetus starts looking more like a person later in the pregnancy. So it’s really not an argument over all that many abortions. I just think we should make the gray-area calls with our eyes open to all relevant considerations, rather than with our eyes closed to some of them.

    I think a lot of political questions are intractable for all practical purposes. Otherwise we wouldn’t need a legislature. We’d just get solve all the problems by researching them and sometimes having discussion circles for a while until we reached the inevitable unanimous consensus.

    MOST IMPORTANTLY, I’m not against arguing abortion in a vacuum. I’m arguing that the better solution is to work end the gender inequality without killing anything. Day-care programs. Access to contraception. Maternity leave. Welfare programs. Adoption programs. Free or very cheap health care. Mentoring programs. Counseling. I think we could come pretty close to eliminating the gender inequality that results from carrying a baby for nine months with the right combination of such programs. Maybe we could even eliminate it. But both sides of the aisle have spent decades of effort and millions of dollars fighting over a solution that I think has side effects that are at least as bad as the problem addressed.

    I’ve spent way too much time on this today. Did you know that my prospectus is 11 days late?

    • Grant permalink
      November 18, 2009 11:25 PM

      Oh god. I really want an edit button so I can put back my line breaks between paragraphs. that was supposed to have 9 of them to break up the wall of text.

      • Jill permalink
        November 18, 2009 11:49 PM

        Just FYI, I put in some line breaks. No text was harmed. 🙂

      • Grant permalink
        November 19, 2009 7:25 PM

        Thanks, Jill.

        Alright, I think I’ve gotten my idea out there. If anybody’s got thoughts they’d like me to consider, I’ll check back here, but I won’t keep posting. I feel like I’ve kind of monopolized. Thanks everybody for making me feel welcome.

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