Congressman Bart Stupak (D-MI) does not garner a lot of sympathy among American women these days. In fact, quite the opposite. And his (literally and figuratively) 11th hour conversion on health reform cost us a great deal in regard to our basic rights to decide whether and when to carry a pregnancy to term.
At the same time, I am sure I can include the majority of my colleagues and friends and countless others in saying that I was both shocked and dismayed–as well as disgusted–when Congressman Randy Neugebarger (R-TX) called Stupak a “babykiller” as Stupak spoke on the House floor Sunday night. “Inappropriate” and “uncivil” don’t even begin to describe my thoughts.
Stupak, as he was undoubtedly asked by Democratic leadership to do, stood to head off a “motion to recommit” offered by the Republicans in a last-ditch effort to derail health reform. Such a motion, based on reinserting Stupak’s original amendment into the bill, would have effectively killed reform. Stupak, who’d extracted an executive order reconfirming the Nelson language, defended against the motion.
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It was at that moment that Neugebarger, following in the footsteps of Congressman Joe Lewis, yelled out “babykiller.” (Neugebarger, far from apologetic, is now using his act to raise funds for his campaign.)
Now Mr. Stupak wants a formal apology from Neugebarger, from the House floor. And he deserves one.
But he should use this moment to insist that the pro-life movement make a blanket apology to pro-choice advocacy groups, pro-choice legislators, and to women, clinic workers, and doctors everywhere.
Because Stupak is one among many who have created the environment in which Neugebarger thought this was appropriate in the first place. He is now lying in the bed that he–and others in the “pro-life” movement–have made, so to speak.
I understand–and respect–Mr. Stupak’s religious and ideological position. I do not respect–and continue to fight against–the imposition of his ideology and religious beliefs on women everywhere. But Mr. Stupak represents and has represented that group of male leaders who have sought to do just that…impose a specific religious ideology on the lives and health of women.
In doing so, the Stupaks, the Pitts, the Neugebargers, the Brownbacks and the Coburns; the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Rick Warrens, Family Research Councils, Focus on the Family, Operation Rescues and all other anti-choice groups have sought to decide–according to their own religious and ideological beliefs–exactly what constitutes life, who is a person, what weight to give a woman’s life, and what her role should be in society.
And in shaping their arguments, they themselves have used words like “murder,” “murderer,” “innocent lives” (as opposed, of course, to “not-so-innocent” women), and of course…”babykillers.” And that is just a start.
They have perpetrated and continue to perpetrate harassment of women and clinic workers on a daily basis at clinics across the country, trying to deny women access to legal medical and health services, while they have pushed for policies that would in effect place a woman’s life at the lowest rung of any social totem pole you can erect. They have created and silently condone an environment in which violence against women and against clinic workers has risen and in which the deaths of doctors who provide basic medical care are excused, defended and even applauded.
As such, in our public discourse around abortion and contraception, these individuals and groups have–purposefully, with the object of further stigmatizing women’s choices–created this language of hate. And have led to the realities of violence.
And it is a language of hate, make no mistake about it. And one that has absolutely no place in a society in which women are equal members, in which women have basic rights, in which there is huge depth and breadth in the notions of what constitutes “life,” “personhood,” and whose rights begin and end where.
Science does not and can not provide these answers. And Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Christian evangelicals all have deeply differentiated thoughts on “life” and on the right to choose. Even within religions there is diversity, never mind between different religions. And even those with the strictest orthodoxy –the Catholic Church for example–do not enjoy adherence to its ideology among its own members. As but one example, Catholic women and their partners in the United States (not to mention every other country in the world) use contraception and abortion at the same rate as everyone else. That is to say–the majority of them ignore the hierarchy in favor of “real life” circumstances.
But to make their case, these groups have used a language of hate. And they don’t like it when it is used against them.
It should not be used by anyone against anyone. If i can respect the personal life and observance of these organizations, they must respect mine and that of others without imposition. If I don’t not believe in the “personhood” of a fertilized eggs, zygotes, etc. then I am free to live with and act in my personal capacity on that belief, as are literally billions of women around the world, in concept if not yet in reality.
If Mr. Stupak and his colleagues want to be addressed and regarded civilly, they must act accordingly.
So I think Bart Stupak should get his apology. But I think he could do far more to help on the road to civility and healing by simultaneously offering his own apology, owning up to his own responsibility, calling on his colleagues of like mind to do the same, and to stop harassing–verbally and physically–the majority of women and men in those country who believe in thought and in deed that we need to respect each other’s differences in this most fundamental area of our lives.