It is funny to witness how so many people, assessing the same set of characters and facts, can reach such extraordinarily different conclusions. The question in attentive Catholic circles was the same, however: Did he cave? The "he" in question is pro-life Congressman Bart Stupak who refused for weeks to accept the Senate’s abortion restrictions "as is" but who negotiated a deal with the White House for an executive order that clarified the parts of the Senate language Stupak thought were problematic.
One of the difficulties of living in this fast-paced, tech-driven culture is that staying up-to-date requires attention to detail. Thus, at the website of the American Principles Project, the homepage still touts their support for Bart Stupak. On their blog, of course, they impugn his integrity. It is far from clear to me that Stupak changed very much. What changed was Stupak’s sense of how the new law treated abortion funding, and that change came about by eliciting an executive order from the President to ensure that the new law is implemented in such a way so as to achieve what all sides said they wanted in the current debate, a ban on federal funding of abortion. Ah, but what did change is that once he was satisfied on abortion, he decided to vote for the health care bill and that, my friends, is what his conservative critics could not abide.
Others were just as condemnatory as APP. The American Catholic website says "Stupak was busy selling out." InsideCatholic’s Deal Hudson wrote "Stupak’s decision betrays Catholics and the faith he calls his own." And over at the Catholic Key Blog, editor Jack Smith has brought the non-judgmental word "perfidious" into the debate. Did any of these Catholics listen to yesterday’s Gospel about the woman caught in the act of adultery?
These conservative Catholics such as professor Robbie George, who runs the APP, and Deal Hudson, who was Catholic liaison for the Bush administration, find themselves this morning in some unusual company. They were not the only ones deriding the Stupak solution and the President’s forthcoming executive order. The President of Planned Parenthood began her statement: "We regret that a pro-choice president of a pro-choice nation was forced to sign an executive order that further codifies the proposed anti-choice language in the health care reform bill, originally proposed by Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska." She went on to say that at least the original Stupak language was not codified, but was unable to explain the difference. And the President of NOW was even more irate. "We are incensed by Obama’s executive order designed to appease a handful of anti-choice Democrats who have held up health care reform in an effort to restrict women's access to abortion," Terry O’Neill, NOW’s President told reporters by email.
Politics makes strange bedfellows as they say. A good rule of thumb in politics, however, is that when you are getting attacked equally from both the extreme right and the extreme left, it means you have landed in the middle. On a contentious issue like the politics of abortion, the middle is the most uncomfortable place to be but it is where a majority of Americans want their politicians to be. I do not believe Stupak "caved" or "betrayed" his pro-life principles, although there is some merit in the observation that President Obama threw his pro-choice allies under the bus: It should be remembered that pro-choice groups hate Hyde to being with, so their sense of disgust is at least grounded in reality.
It appears that Congressman Stupak, like others, became satisfied that the bill that passed, as amplified in the executive order, will not fund abortions with public money. If you have drunk the GOP Kool-Aid which repeats the meme that President Obama is "the most pro-abortion president in history" you probably will not trust him to keep his word about the executive order, although you would be hard-pressed to show how such a course of action would serve the President politically. But, if you set aside your hermeneutic of suspicion, and remember that Cong. Stupak really, really did want to vote for health care reform, yesterday’s agreement does not warrant any of the calumnies being thrown at its sponsors. Stupak is not traitor. The President is not, after all, the "most pro-abortion president in history" no matter how often the meme is repeated. President Obama and the Congressman from Michigan are the people who helped get health care across the finish line. That is no small achievement for the American people.
Michael Sean Winters