Did Bart Stupak “limit the harm”?

Not every pro-life opponent of the healthcare reform bill is infuriated with Rep. Bart Stupak. Over at Catholic Online, our good friend Deacon Keith Fournier, while greatly disappointed with Stupak’s decision, nevertheless defends him against some of the harsher critics.

[Stupak] seems to honestly believe that with this Executive Order, the current Hyde Amendment language will be protected in the law. He is confident that this Executive Order will ensure that the fatal flaw with this legislation, clearly set forth by the US Bishops, which undermined the fundamental Human Right to Life, will be cured. As a Constitutional lawyer, I strongly doubt it. Though I live in Virginia, I am, to use the old adage “from Missouri”, show me! I know, some will even resent that I am writing this piece! Executive orders can be rescinded and have questionable value in correcting statutory law.

I know that many are disappointed in Stupak’s decision. I am. I do not agree with this legislation for many important procedural, constitutional and substantive reasons. However, the first and fundamental reason I opposed it was that it DID indeed open up Federal funds for the killing of innocent children. If it did not, why is the President of the United States signing an Executive Order to allegedly cure the Bill?

….So, I ask, has Congressman Bart Stupak at least “limited the harm” done by this Legislation? Has he “lessened its negative consequences”? Has he tried to act as a faithful Catholic Christian in public life? If so he should be commended. Even if, like me, you disagree with his ultimate decision. Was that the Congressman’s intention?


An Executive Order simply expresses the will of the president at that moment. If he feels differently tomorrow, he can issue a new order reversing the first. So unless Rep. Stupak is either extraordinarily gullible or somehow unaware of how Executive Orders work, he’s being disingenuous. That doesn’t look like limiting harm to me.

Even liberal commenter Matthew Yglesias is onto Stupak’s game:

I’ve spent a while trying to figure out what it is Bart Stupak got in the course of his executive order “compromise” on abortion, and as best I can tell the answer is nothing. Or as Athenae puts it, he got attention. I think what primarily happened is that with his bloc dissolving, Stupak cut a face-saving deal that mostly gave him an opportunity for “walking back from some of his past arguments.”


Brian Saint-Paul


Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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