The Stupak-Pitts Controversy is Based On–and Masks–A Deepset Fear of Women’s Agency

The Stupak-Pitts amendment to the House bill for health care
reform grabbed most of the headlines after the health care reform vote.  It makes sense—the media and socially
conservative politicians love to bang the drum about abortion.  The media loves playing the misleading
“both sides” card (falsely implying that the anti-choice movement is motivated
by Deep Moral Concerns instead of archaic sexual paranoia and misogyny), and
socially conservative politicians love how creating a panic over abortion can distract
everyone from more pertinent issues. 
Issues such as improving women’s overall health care.


In all the fuss over Stupak-Pitts, the fact that both houses
of Congress removed
mandated coverage not only for contraception, but also STD counseling and
pelvic exams
went largely unnoticed. 
As Sharon Lerner explains in the linked piece, the reason goes right
back to those anti-choicers who claim merely to be concerned about fetal life
(and not about controlling female sexuality).  Fear of anti-choice hysterics made removing mandated
contraception and cancer screening for women an easy choice for Congress.  And, just as anti-choicers would hope,
all the fuss over abortion meant that few people were asking questions about
exactly why contraception, which 98% of women will use at some point in their
lives, suddenly became controversial.

The reason tells you a lot about how Stupak-Pitts got into
the bill in the first place. 
Sex-phobes have an outsized presence and power on the Hill.  Part of it is that they’re simply
louder.  The Christian right has
done a bang-up job of recruiting an army of bitter, underemployed misogynists
and naïve teenagers who fear sex to march around on command whenever the word
“abortion” is uttered, making the sex-phobic presence in the U.S. seem bigger
than it is.

Part of it is that the Christian right also focuses so much
of its energy on courting people in power. As
Rachel Maddow reported,
Bart Stupak is a member of the notorious C Street
Family, and it seems very likely that he agreed to be the figurehead for the
Stupak-Pitts amendment at their request. 
This group of fundamentalist Christians preaching a theology of male
dominance and something very close to the divine right of politicians has
wisely chosen to start recruiting among Democrats, in order to spread its
power.  The result is not only a
startling number of Democrats becoming belligerent anti-choicers, but helping
create an atmosphere of fear about touching the subject of female control over
female bodies.

Another part of it is that anti-choicers, since they can
hide behind a moralizing mask, have no problem talking about sex, but
pro-choicers avoid the topic out of shame.  Everyone fears being tarred as someone who is openly
pro-sex, which gets rewritten by anti-choicers as pro-promiscuity or
pro-irresponsibility. Even though, of course, pro-choicers are the only people
promoting a responsible vision of sexuality, where pleasure is balanced with
honesty and mindfulness.

But watching all this nonsense go down, I’m forced to
suggest that the major factor is that our government is still mainly run by a
bunch of middle-aged men who’ve been shielded from having to deal honestly and
empathetically with women’s lives their whole lives, and therefore are prone to
seeing women’s concerns as disposable at best, and at worst, as frighteningly
alien and needing to be controlled. 
When you have that attitude, it’s easy to push aside all the ways you’ve
personally benefited from contraception and abortion, and just assume the only women
who need assistance in those areas are wayward sluts who need to be slapped
down instead of given a hand. 
After all, I’m sure most of these men have had the benefit of women who
quietly make sure that fertility control is taken care of, without bothering
the over-privileged men in their lives. 

Knowing this, it’s not hard to see why some folks are panicking
over provisions aimed at lower income women
that involve advice on using
fertility control for better health outcomes for mothers and children.  On paper, this provision seems harmless
enough. It provides optional at-home visits for new mothers under certain
income levels in order to advise the new mothers on the benefits of pregnancy
spacing, as well as giving them education in domestic violence and education
options for their children.

As written, the only problem I see with it is that it’s
limited to low-income women.  After
all, the advice about pregnancy spacing is good for any woman who plans to have
more than one child, and the information about this is relatively new.  The assumption that middle class but
not lower class women have access to this information is both paternalistic and
just plain wrong.  These
restrictions imply that low-income women are especially ignorant on this
subject, which doesn’t seem to be true.

But in an atmosphere where legislators on a
woman-controlling kick are writing bills like this, a seemingly harmless
provision about giving generally useful advice takes on an ominous light.  After all, our legislators have
indicated that they’re willing to use health care reform to manipulate women’s
bodies and deprive women of their reproductive choice. Add to that a
history of compulsory sterilization
of women that the powers that be think
are illegitimate reproducers, and you have a situation where hyper-vigilance
about provisions like this isn’t so much paranoid as smart.

The government could go a long way to earning back our
trust.  First of all, stop using
health care reform to manipulate women’s choices.  Make abortion and contraception available to all, as well we
prenatal and post-natal care. 
Post-childbirth advice about pregnancy spacing, healthy babies, and
education aren’t something that only low-income women need, and implying that
is paternalistic at best, overbearing and coercive at worst. 

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  • paul-bradford

    Even though, of course, pro-choicers are the only people promoting a responsible vision of sexuality, where pleasure is balanced with honesty and mindfulness.




    Either your statement isn’t true, or I’m Pro-Choice since the program I support for lowering the abortion rate has five points:


    *Quality OB/GYN care for all women regardless of income.

    *Comprehensive birth control for all.

    *An end to policies that discriminate against pregnant women, as well as enhanced support for single mothers.

    *Effective and enforceable laws to assure paternal support of children.

    *An end to discriminatory language against the very young. 


    I claim that even though PLCC is Pro-Life, it has a ‘responsible vision of sexuality’


    It seems to me, Amanda, that you’re constantly directing attention to the most extreme and divisive forces within the Pro-Life movement (these are the people, by the way, who actually drive up the abortion rate with their counterproductive tactics) and don’t seem to be particularly interested in engaging more moderate voices.


    How does a policy of non-engagement advance women’s health?


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • elisa

    Paul – Thanks for sharing the tenants of your program to lower the abortion rate.  (Not sure what ‘an end to discriminatory language against the very young means … but I think I get the point.)


    I don’t think Amanda is "directing attention to the most extreme and divisive forces within the Pro-Life movement."  I think those forces make a lot of noise all by themselves …  I rarely hear voices like yours suggesting – rightly I think – that most of us agree on a common sense approach to women’s health and healthy families.  


    Have Pro-Life Catholics for Choice issued a statement to counter the Catholic Bishops on Stupak? or health care reform?



  • jgbeam

    “(falsely implying that the anti-choice movement is motivated by Deep Moral Concerns instead of archaic sexual paranoia and misogyny)”

    You never quit throwing out the same tired argument. After perusing this site for months I haven’t seen any posts by pro-lifers that support your contention.

    Jim Grant, Pro-lifer

  • amanda-marcotte

    Do you have anything to say about the removal of mandated contraception coverage from the bill?  Thread-jacking isn’t exactly ad hominem, but it springs from the same urge: to discredit the author instead of addressing her actual points.

  • amanda-marcotte

    The removal of STD prevention, cancer screening, and contraception from mandatory services demonstrates that the anti-choice movement is more concerned with punishing female sexuality than protecting fetuses.  Simple!


    Now, perhaps you think misogynist loathing of female sexuality is a legitimate moral concern, but that is something I disagree with.  But I don’t care if you state it as a moral concern, as long as you’re honest, and don’t hide your feelings behind fetuses.


    By the way, there’s a really interesting segment on a recent episode of "This American Life" from an evangelical Christian who got fed up with the use of dishonesty as a recruiting tactic.   He was sick of the way that it was normalized in evangelical circles to lie to someone to get their attention and then sneak in your values system.  So he’s trying another strategy.


    I bring this up, because the "wow ’em with fetuses, hit ’em with misogyny" tactic is far from unique in Christian right circles.  In fact, that is SOP, and it’s a tactic that is used in every way, including just recruiting for the church.  Get their attention with lies, and then try to pull them in.

  • gordon

    Moderate voices in the "pro-life" movement?  Whose (besides yours, I mean)?


    We disagree about many things, Paul, but you seem at least thoughtful and articulate.  Surely you must know how unusual your position is.  Have you not seen the rants insisting that there can be no Pro-Life Catholics for Choice because, if you are for choice, you cannot be Catholic at all?  If the moderate voices of which you speak actually exist, they need to speak up and counter the extremists on their own territory.  As Amanda suggests, these voices might start by stating loudly and publicly that the USCCB does not speak for all Catholics.  Speaking of whom, I am as sure as I can be of anything that 99% of the members of the USCCB would say that "comprehensive birth control for all," which you explicitly support, will become available in America over their dead bodies.


    Regarding one of your other goals, an end to policies that discriminate against pregnant women, which I wholeheartedly support:  I hope Amanda will not think I am speaking out of turn here if I assert that the bedrock principle, both legal and moral, of the entire pro-choice movement is that all restrictions on abortion, whether legislative, economic, or strategic, discriminate against pregnant women.


    Finally, I submit that the "policy of non-engagement" is the the policy of the anti-choicers themselves.  Again, where are the moderate voices of which you speak that are willing to engage us?  This attitude goes at least all the way back to Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), which the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford made possible by its intransigence.  If the Archdioese had supported a compromise plan, under which only married women had access to birth control and only then through licensed physicians, Estelle Griswold would never have even been able to get herself arrested, much less gotten her case before the SCOTUS.  Instead, someone started some scurrilous rumors that the Church was intent on forcing its doctrines down everyone’s throats by any means, the Archdiocese did everything in its considerable power to convince the public that the rumors were true, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Plus ca change.

  • sayna

    It’s great that you understand that opposition to contraception is wrong and counter-productive. I’m always glad to see pro-lifers who support preventing abortion through contraception and medically accurate sex-ed.

    Now, what I’d really like to see is a single mainstream pro-life organization that supports contraception and comprehensive sex ed. Heck, just a mainstream pro-life activist supporting prevention would be nice. But that’s not the case. Again and again I see pro-life groups either tiptoe around the issue or explicitly oppose these preventative measures, often spreading blatantly inaccurate information about them.

    As I see it right now, Amanda is absolutely correct. The only side really doing anything to promote a healthy, honest, and responsible sexuality is the pro-choice side. As I’ve said many times, pro-choice groups are doing more to prevent abortion in a single day of providing sex ed. and contraception than pro-life groups could do in a lifetime of shaming and coercing women outside the clinics.

  • waterjoe

    Actually, Amanda, you did not prove the point.  You only note correlations and attributed to the various events your views as to the motivations.

    It is entirely possible that someone could support the Stupak Amendment and removing cancer screening from the mandatory services for two different reasons.  It is also possible that neither of those reasons stem from mysogeny or that only one of them does.

  • paul-bradford



    I want you to realize that the destructive behavior on the part of many Pro-Lifers and Pro-Life groups that bothers you also bothers me.  In fact, it bothers me more because it not only assaults women (which, in actual fact, is something that very much bothers me) but also because it ends up increasing risks for the unborn (which, as far as I’ve been able to discern, has not been a concern that causes much lost sleep on the part of the regulars on this ‘site.)


    It turns out that YOU were the one who alerted me to the fact that contraception coverage had been removed from the bill.  I need to do more research on this because it’s caught me by surprise but you can believe that I think it’s incredibly stupid and short-sighted to suppress contraception.


    I’m for Stupak because I believe there are authentic conscience concerns regarding including abortion procedures as "health care" — but I’d much prefer an amendment that only curtailed abortion coverage and left GENUINE aspects of women’s health in tact.


    By the way, I actually do want to address some of the other points in your article which I will do in a post below. 


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • paul-bradford



    PLCC is very much in support of Universal Health Care (so is the USCCB, for that matter) not only because it promises to offer protection to the unborn, but also because health care for the poor is a Pro-Life issue in its own right. 


    The House Bill passed with two votes to spare.  I’m convinced that, without an amendment to protect the conscience rights of taxpayers who oppose abortion, the bill would have failed.  I didn’t realize until now that Stupak dragged in a lot of issues other than abortion.


    PLCC opposes efforts to make abortion unaffordable to the poor as a strategy to protect the unborn, but I have no problem with the idea that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for abortions.   


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • princess-rot

    I’m for Stupak because I believe there are authentic conscience concerns regarding including abortion procedures as "health care" — but I’d much prefer an amendment that only curtailed abortion coverage and left GENUINE aspects of women’s health in tact.

    That you don’t even think women should have control over what inhabits our uteruses – and that its not "genuine" health concern – pretty much proves Amanda’s point.

    Pray, Paul, tell me what is "genuine"? Is it only "genuine" health care for women if we don’t mention the uterus, or sex? You have not convinced one single pro-choicer on this site – me included – that zygotes, blastocysts and embryos are fully realised (snerk) people and we should be forever wary of their potential presence to the point of self-abnegation, and the only possible recourse after unwanted implantation is compulsory pregnancy, because fetuses are people, don’cha know? Sure you won’t mind sacraficing your own personhood for it, and being lowered to the status of an incubator. Hey, smells like misogyny to me.

    And "PLCC"? It’s you. On your own. The rest of the people who share your sentiment, sans birth control support (hypocritically or not), are most definitely anti-everythingthatisn’tastraightwhitemale. So, please don’t come here blowing your trumpet and say that you’ll change the world. Get your own side to admit that the real person carrying the pregnancy is the only one who gets to decide whether that pregnancy becomes a born child, and nobody else. Then we’ll talk.

  • jodi-jacobson

    does not remove federal/taxpayer funding for abortion.

    That is and has already been law for nearly 40 years and was encompassed in this bill in the Capps amendment, the one that the USCCB and all the other folk seeking to limit any choices women might have objected to.

    The Stupak amendment as has been said here time and time again eliminates women’s rights to purchase insurance policies with their own funding for abortion coverage, something that over 85 percent of employer-based policies offer today.

    It does other nefarious things as well.

    It was not needed to limit federal funding for abortion.

    If we are going to have a discussion on these issues, let’s please use the facts, not the spin.

    Moreover, Paul, you have said here before you are not supportive of hormonal contraception, is that correct?

    thanks, Jodi

  • lesly

    You only note correlations and attributed to the various events your views as to the motivations.

    The bill doesn’t cover contraception to commemorate Catholics’ love of unwanted, unplanned for bebes.

  • therealistmom

    The title of your post came out as “I’m for Stupak because I…” and I wondered if you’d had some kind of brain injury that made you no longer the Princess Rot we know and love. Or you got a fundie brain transplant. (Oxymoron?)

  • harry834
  • anat-shenkerosorio



    Thanks, as ever, for a timely and critical analysis of not just what’s happening but why.



  • paul-bradford

    Now, what I’d really like to see is a single mainstream pro-life organization that supports contraception and comprehensive sex ed.




    I started PLCC in August of 2008 because I couldn’t stand any of the other Pro-Life groups I knew about.  Princess Rot is correct that I’ve made no effort to recruit anyone else into the organization — that’s only because I still have a lot to learn.


    I hang out (maybe more than I should) at RHReality Check because the posters here are far more intelligent, communicative and well-informed than the posters I find on other ‘sites.  I generally feel that people here don’t really understand what I’m about (even though they’re all certain that they do) and I haven’t won a lot of trust, but I am learning and I’m getting to know the ‘hot buttons’ that lead people to be active Pro-Choicers.



    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • progo35

    Amanda-you are so incredibly bitter and single minded that it is difficult to appreciate anything you write. If you really wanted to help people, you would TRY to engage more moderate people in the abortion debate instead of trying to shred pro lifers on a cheese grater of manipulative and contentious characterizations. I read this blog as part of my general quest to truly understand all aspects of the abortion debate, and I don’t see you trying to understand anything other than your own very narrow point of view.

    "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • crowepps

    Since it couldn’t possibly be misogyny, what’s your speculation on why it’s ProLife to prevent women from finding out about their options if they are the victims of domestic violence?

  • crowepps

    Attacking Amanda’s character rather than addressing the points she made is not particularly persuasive, although hopefully the opportunity to be harshly judgmental at least gave you some satisfaction. As I understand it, your position is that the only acceptable reason for abortion is if the woman’s life is immediately at risk. This is not the moderate position.

  • kate-ranieri

    Now that’s quite an ad hominem if I’ve ever seen one. Incredibly bitter and single minded? Shred prolifers on a cheese grater? 


    Perhaps writing trashy zines might be a new career for you 

  • kate-ranieri

    Please explain

    "*An end to discriminatory language against the very young." 

  • crowepps

    Now that the Baby Boomers are closing in on retirement age, there is a recognition that the elderly are being ‘discriminated against’ because of their age. Paul has borrowed the concept to apply to those at the other end of life and believes that it is unfair to ‘discriminate against’ blastocysts just because they’ve only been around a couple days. He prefers to use the term ‘very young’ because it neatly confuses whether we’re talking about less than 50% possibilities or people.

  • princess-rot

    Or you got a fundie brain transplant.

    I’m going to have nightmares about that now, I know it. :p I should remember to fill in the subject line. Thanks, TRM. Nice to know I make a difference, even if it’s only for shouting at people on the internet when I’ve got a couple of hours and nothing to do.

  • kate-ranieri

    Waterjoe, proofs are for quantitative folks like scientists and mathematicians. Further, your assumptions (it is entirely possible….) about Amanda or about others’ support of Stupak are speculations. Bottom line: Gobbledegoop. 

    More to the point is that women, I argue, deserve full citizenship and comprehensive health care. It is is their right regardless of their socioeconomic status. It is totally unacceptable that half of the population controls the other half. It is totally unacceptable for elected officials to "play doctor" and moralist AND get paid for doing so.

  • paul-bradford

    I will accept crowepps’ post as an adequate, albeit unflattering description of my concerns as they pertain to discrimination.  Interestingly, crowepps herself just provided an example of what I consider discriminatory speech when she described blastocysts as "less than 50% possibilities".


    On the off chance that someone missed her reference, she was pointing to the scientific observation that blastocysts typically have a ‘less than 50% probability’ of developing into embryos.  It would seem that she is arguing that the higher the mortality rate of a given cohort, the less eligible the members of that cohort are to being treated as people.  By that reasoning, the people most worthy of personhood are eleven year old white girls living in the suburbs.  Their survival rate is higher than anyone else’s — but it’s downhill from there!


    It shouldn’t take more than a moment’s reflection to figure out why I consider it discriminatory to label a set of people by their undesirable mortality rate.  Blastocysts have the same survival rate as one hundred and twenty year olds (yes, you have to read that far down on the life table).  I would consider it discriminatory and ageist to denigrate one hundred and twenty year olds based upon the fact that they’re likely to die.


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • ahunt

    It would seem that she is arguing that the higher the mortality rate of
    a given cohort, the less eligible the members of that cohort are to
    being treated as people.


    The profound distinction being that a few cells do not a person make, Paul.

  • ahunt

    I think the "disappearing" of women from the discussion is sufficient evidence of misogyny.


    Oh, there is cursory lip-service paid to real life issues like loss of employment, discrimination, lack of insurance, and occasionally even the physical health angle, and so on.


    But my question, Jim…is what do you say to/about the woman who does not want to be pregnant, does not want to give birth and does not want a child?


    Poof! All gone. Anti-choicers simply "disappear" her.



  • crowepps

    I would consider it discriminatory and ageist to denigrate one hundred and twenty year olds based upon the fact that they’re likely to die.

    I sure would appreciate it if you’d point out where I ‘denigrated’ blastocysts by stating the truth – that they have a less than 50% chance of survival. How does recognizing biological truths equal denigration?

    Certainly I have no interest in ‘denigrating’ 120 years olds either, but I sure think it would be pointless for the taxpayers to get stuck with the tab for this venerable to have a breast lump removed.

  • ahunt

    Bad Crowepps…bad,bad. Doctors being known for not doing surgeries that would kill the patient, an’ all.



  • harry834

    It seems that Amanda gave a lot of data to support her views. Is there something that you think doesn’t add up?