Stewart, Huckabee go head-to-head on abortion

Lauren Guy

Jon Stewart's interview with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee sought to create "common ground" on the abortion issue, but Stewart was not at all equipped with the tools to refute Huckabee's main talking points.

This is a cross-post with Choice Words, the blog of ChoiceUSA. 

Let me first say this: I like The Daily Show.  I like Jon Stewart.  The show is usually wildly entertaining, and Stewart’s comedic critiques of Congress and the mainstream media alike are a great way to unwind in the evenings.

It’s also a great way to pass the time while doing my cardio workouts at the gym.  I’d say I have an episode of The Daily Show playing on my iPod for 90% of the time I’m on the elliptical machines.  Episodes that are more political add an additional advantage to my workout: the more frustrated I get, the faster I go.  So when deciding which episode to watch last Friday, I figured I’d go for June 18 with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Huckabee was Stewart’s guest last December, their conversation revolving around the issue of same-sex marriage.  This time around, Stewart declared, he was going to let the former governor pick the topic.  The topic?  Abortion.

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Oh boy.

I was nervous from the start.  After all, Huckabee is a seasoned expert at arguing the so-called "pro-life" side of this issue, and I don’t think Stewart is a worthy opponent.  Still, I had to watch.

The interview started generically enough, Stewart taking the obvious "her body, her choice" side against Huckabee’s "sanctity of life" talking points.  While it irked me that Stewart was letting Huckabee take the point on the "fact" that even pro-choice people think abortion is a "necessary evil," he did offer some decent (albeit concessionary) counter-arguments.  But I got the sense from the get go that Stewart was not at all well equipped with, well, the facts.

Ironically enough, the anti-evolution, anti-medical science former governor invoked biology to make his main point:

I believe life begins at conception, when 23 chromosomes from a male and 23 from a female create a unique DNA schedule that has never existed before, has an imprint that is unlike any that has ever been … Biologically and scientifically, it is irrefutable that that’s when life begins.  Now, some would argue is it human life?  But what else can it be?  It’s not a dolphin, it’s not a stalk of broccoli, I mean it has to be human life because of the cellular structure that’s happened.


I was just short of yelling at my iPod, screaming at Stewart to refute his so-called "scientific facts" right there on the air.  But he didn’t.  He changed the subject back to generic, loosely-woven arguments about sovereignty that, while important to highlight as a cornerstone of pro-choice rhetoric, allowed Huckabee to get away with making some very powerful yet very inaccurate arguments against abortion.

For one, Huckabee is arguing that "life" begins before a woman is even pregnant.  According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, "a pregnancy is considered to be established only after implantation is complete."  Implantation is the process by which a fertilized egg (zygote) has traveled back down the fallopian tubes and implanted on the wall of the uterus, which can take up to five days after "conception."  From the same ACOG statement: "Between one-third and one-half of all fertilized eggs never fully implant."  Are we to assume, then, that a woman who is having sexual intercourse without contraception should be mourning for lost lives between one-third and one-half of the time she’s sexually active?  The antis often come back with the argument that it should be "God’s decision" to decide which implant and which don’t, but by that argument we should halt all medical interventions to cure viruses and cancers: after all, shouldn’t we just "leave it up to God" to decide who survives and who doesn’t?

All too common, this argument that a zygote is a human life because it will not turn into anything else is especially frustrating (and has produced some very obnoxious anti-choice merch).  Treating a zygote like a human and offering all rights associated with personhood on the basis of "it’s not going to turn into anything else" is full of holes; should we be treating Huckabee like a corpse?  Because given enough time and biological process, he’s not likely to turn into anything else.  

The interview became increasingly infuriating as Stewart and Huckabee began bridging "common ground" with one another.  Agreeing (on very different levels) that there are too many abortions in the U.S., the abortion reduction agenda began rearing its ugly head.  Stewart proclaimed himself "not one of those people who thinks [abortion] should be completely unregulated," letting Huckabee get the upper-hand at defining abortion as an intrinsically evil procedure, not to mention contradicting his own "sovereignty" argument by suggesting *some* pregnant women need regulation.  Yes, those of us on the pro-choice side want fewer abortions, but it’s not because we hate that so many "lives" are "ended" every year.  We want fewer abortions because abortion is an expensive, no-fun medical procedure, something we should avoid not because the procedure is bad or wrong, but because prevention is, well, easier.  In the words of Melanie Zurek and Courtney B. Jackson of the Abortion Access Project:

Critics of the abortion reduction paradigm (at least within the pro-choice community, including Jacobson), point out shortcomings of this approach: the persistent focus on the fetus and abortion instead of women and women’s health and autonomy, the anti-contraception agenda of many in the anti-abortion community, and the fact that not all abortions are the consequence of a failure to prevent unintended pregnancy but instead result from unforeseeable, unpreventable circumstances often relating to the pregnant woman’s health.

The soundbites on abortion reduction are rarely qualified with such complex considerations, and this allows anti-choicers to define the whats and the whys of the procedure at large.

While I do wish I’d been there to refute the more complicated aspects of Huckabee’s arguments, I was indeed happy to hear "the A word" discussed in-depth on a popular national TV program.  And while I think Stewart caved to Huckabee’s arguments more than we’d have liked, I believe pro-choice viewers were able to shape their own refutations of Huckabee’s unrealistic views on reproductive issues, refutations that will become very important as abortion once again becomes a widely-debated issue in our society.  Progress cannot be charted any other way, and we need to be the ones to define the terms by which we think about abortion, contraception, sex education, autonomy, etc.  As Stewart argued in his most prolific moment in the entire interview, confronted with the recent poll that suggested most Americans consider themselves "pro-life":

[The abortion issue] gets inflammatory with the idea that people who think women should have control over their own reproductive decisions aren’t ‘pro-life.’  It is at its core such a fundamentally inflammatory way to frame the discussion that we’ve already lost in some respects.


Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

Let’s Stop Conflating Self-Care and Actual Care

Katie Klabusich

It's time for a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities.

As a chronically ill, chronically poor person, I have feelings about when, why, and how the phrase “self-care” is invoked. When International Self-Care Day came to my attention, I realized that while I laud the effort to prevent some of the 16 million people the World Health Organization reports die prematurely every year from noncommunicable diseases, the American notion of self-care—ironically—needs some work.

I propose a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities. How we think about what constitutes vital versus optional care affects whether/when we do those things we should for our health and well-being. Some of what we have come to designate as self-care—getting sufficient sleep, treating chronic illness, allowing ourselves needed sick days—shouldn’t be seen as optional; our culture should prioritize these things rather than praising us when we scrape by without them.

International Self-Care Day began in China, and it has spread over the past few years to include other countries and an effort seeking official recognition at the United Nations of July 24 (get it? 7/24: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) as an important advocacy day. The online academic journal SelfCare calls its namesake “a very broad concept” that by definition varies from person to person.

“Self-care means different things to different people: to the person with a headache it might mean a buying a tablet, but to the person with a chronic illness it can mean every element of self-management that takes place outside the doctor’s office,” according to SelfCare. “[I]n the broadest sense of the term, self-care is a philosophy that transcends national boundaries and the healthcare systems which they contain.”

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In short, self-care was never intended to be the health version of duct tape—a way to patch ourselves up when we’re in pieces from the outrageous demands of our work-centric society. It’s supposed to be part of our preventive care plan alongside working out, eating right, getting enough sleep, and/or other activities that are important for our personalized needs.

The notion of self-care has gotten a recent visibility boost as those of us who work in human rights and/or are activists encourage each other publicly to recharge. Most of the people I know who remind themselves and those in our movements to take time off do so to combat the productivity anxiety embedded in our work. We’re underpaid and overworked, but still feel guilty taking a break or, worse, spending money on ourselves when it could go to something movement- or bill-related.

The guilt is intensified by our capitalist system having infected the self-care philosophy, much as it seems to have infected everything else. Our bootstrap, do-it-yourself culture demands we work to the point of exhaustion—some of us because it’s the only way to almost make ends meet and others because putting work/career first is expected and applauded. Our previous president called it “uniquely American” that someone at his Omaha, Nebraska, event promoting “reform” of (aka cuts to) Social Security worked three jobs.

“Uniquely American, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)”

The audience was applauding working hours that are disastrous for health and well-being, laughing at sleep as though our bodies don’t require it to function properly. Bush actually nailed it: Throughout our country, we hold Who Worked the Most Hours This Week competitions and attempt to one-up the people at the coffee shop, bar, gym, or book club with what we accomplished. We have reached a point where we consider getting more than five or six hours of sleep a night to be “self-care” even though it should simply be part of regular care.

Most of us know intuitively that, in general, we don’t take good enough care of ourselves on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t something that just happened; it’s a function of our work culture. Don’t let the statistic that we work on average 34.4 hours per week fool you—that includes people working part time by choice or necessity, which distorts the reality for those of us who work full time. (Full time is defined by the Internal Revenue Service as 30 or more hours per week.) Gallup’s annual Work and Education Survey conducted in 2014 found that 39 percent of us work 50 or more hours per week. Only 8 percent of us on average work less than 40 hours per week. Millennials are projected to enjoy a lifetime of multiple jobs or a full-time job with one or more side hustles via the “gig economy.”

Despite worker productivity skyrocketing during the past 40 years, we don’t work fewer hours or make more money once cost of living is factored in. As Gillian White outlined at the Atlantic last year, despite politicians and “job creators” blaming financial crises for wage stagnation, it’s more about priorities:

Though productivity (defined as the output of goods and services per hours worked) grew by about 74 percent between 1973 and 2013, compensation for workers grew at a much slower rate of only 9 percent during the same time period, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.

It’s no wonder we don’t sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been sounding the alarm for some time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend people between 18 and 60 years old get seven or more hours sleep each night “to promote optimal health and well-being.” The CDC website has an entire section under the heading “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem,” outlining statistics and negative outcomes from our inability to find time to tend to this most basic need.

We also don’t get to the doctor when we should for preventive care. Roughly half of us, according to the CDC, never visit a primary care or family physician for an annual check-up. We go in when we are sick, but not to have screenings and discuss a basic wellness plan. And rarely do those of us who do go tell our doctors about all of our symptoms.

I recently had my first really wonderful check-up with a new primary care physician who made a point of asking about all the “little things” leading her to encourage me to consider further diagnosis for fibromyalgia. I started crying in her office, relieved that someone had finally listened and at the idea that my headaches, difficulty sleeping, recovering from illness, exhaustion, and pain might have an actual source.

Considering our deeply-ingrained priority problems, it’s no wonder that when I post on social media that I’ve taken a sick day—a concept I’ve struggled with after 20 years of working multiple jobs, often more than 80 hours a week trying to make ends meet—people applaud me for “doing self-care.” Calling my sick day “self-care” tells me that the commenter sees my post-traumatic stress disorder or depression as something I could work through if I so chose, amplifying the stigma I’m pushing back on by owning that a mental illness is an appropriate reason to take off work. And it’s not the commenter’s fault; the notion that working constantly is a virtue is so pervasive, it affects all of us.

Things in addition to sick days and sleep that I’ve had to learn are not engaging in self-care: going to the doctor, eating, taking my meds, going to therapy, turning off my computer after a 12-hour day, drinking enough water, writing, and traveling for work. Because it’s so important, I’m going to say it separately: Preventive health care—Pap smears, check-ups, cancer screenings, follow-ups—is not self-care. We do extras and nice things for ourselves to prevent burnout, not as bandaids to put ourselves back together when we break down. You can’t bandaid over skipping doctors appointments, not sleeping, and working your body until it’s a breath away from collapsing. If you’re already at that point, you need straight-up care.

Plenty of activities are self-care! My absolutely not comprehensive personal list includes: brunch with friends, adult coloring (especially the swear word books and glitter pens), soy wax with essential oils, painting my toenails, reading a book that’s not for review, a glass of wine with dinner, ice cream, spending time outside, last-minute dinner with my boyfriend, the puzzle app on my iPad, Netflix, participating in Caturday, and alone time.

My someday self-care wish list includes things like vacation, concerts, the theater, regular massages, visiting my nieces, decent wine, the occasional dinner out, and so very, very many books. A lot of what constitutes self-care is rather expensive (think weekly pedicures, spa days, and hobbies with gear and/or outfit requirements)—which leads to the privilege of getting to call any part of one’s routine self-care in the first place.

It would serve us well to consciously add an intersectional view to our enthusiasm for self-care when encouraging others to engage in activities that may be out of reach financially, may disregard disability, or may not be right for them for a variety of other reasons, including compounded oppression and violence, which affects women of color differently.

Over the past year I’ve noticed a spike in articles on how much of the emotional labor burden women carry—at the Toast, the Atlantic, Slate, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post. This category of labor disproportionately affects women of color. As Minaa B described at the Huffington Post last month:

I hear the term self-care a lot and often it is defined as practicing yoga, journaling, speaking positive affirmations and meditation. I agree that those are successful and inspiring forms of self-care, but what we often don’t hear people talking about is self-care at the intersection of race and trauma, social justice and most importantly, the unawareness of repressed emotional issues that make us victims of our past.

The often-quoted Audre Lorde wrote in A Burst of Light: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

While her words ring true for me, they are certainly more weighted and applicable for those who don’t share my white and cisgender privilege. As covered at Ravishly, the Feminist Wire, Blavity, the Root, and the Crunk Feminist Collective recently, self-care for Black women will always have different expressions and roots than for white women.

But as we continue to talk about self-care, we need to be clear about the difference between self-care and actual care and work to bring the necessities of life within reach for everyone. Actual care should not have to be optional. It should be a priority in our culture so that it can be a priority in all our lives.