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.


News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.