I read something today that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up (emphasis mine):
In the rest of the interview, she basically suggests that about 60% of the evangelical community is politically conservative and won’t ever vote for a Democrat. But the other 40% will, and those 40% are worth trying to appeal to. And one way to appeal to them is to acknowledge their moral qualms about abortion even if you don’t happen to share them yourself. Like this guy:
“I think that the American people struggle with two principles: There’s the principle that a fetus is not just an appendage, it’s potential life. I think people recognize that there’s a moral element to that. They also believe that women should have some control over their bodies and themselves and there is a privacy element to making those decisions.
“I don’t think people take the issue lightly. A lot of people have arrived in the view that I’ve arrived at, which is that there is a moral implication to these issues, but that the women involved are in the best position to make that determination. And I don’t think they make it lightly.”
That’s Kevin Drum, trying to gotcha Amanda Marcotte over her criticism of Amy Sullivan’s mealymouthed denial of being pro-choice even though she is, by any definition of the term. Drum’s point is that the guy he’s quoting is a prominent Democrat who acknowledges the moral quandaries that people have with abortion while still being “solidly in favor of choice.”
I’d just like you to consider the phrasing in that Democrat’s statement for a moment: the conflict is between those who believe that a fetus is not just an appendage but a potential life, and those who believe that women should have some control over their bodies and themselves.
Some control. Some. How very generous. And… solid.
Here’s the problem: that Democrat is Barack Obama. I was brought up so short by the “some control” part that I wanted to look at the context, to see if it were an anomaly, so I took a look at the link that Drum provided. The quote is from a Q&A in Iowa October, and sad to say, it didn’t settle my hackles any:
The Questioner: “I see a great a contradiction going on in our society, right now, and I don’t understand it. Maybe you can help me out. On the one hand, we see a guy like Michael Vick, who will likely lose his livelihood and spend some time in jail and there’s been a tremendous outcry against this man because of fighting dogs. There’s been a huge, huge reaction. On the other hand, we have 34 years and counting where thousands of innocent, sweet babies are being killed every day through what we call abortion, yet that voice has seemingly died out. What would you do about that and what’s happening in our society when people can’t seem to see this contradiction?”
Mr. Obama: “The issue of abortion, I don’t think, has gone away. People think about it a lot, obviously you do and you feel impassioned. I think that the American people struggle with two principles: There’s the principle that a fetus is not just an appendage, it’s potential life. I think people recognize that there’s a moral element to that. They also believe that women should have some control over their bodies and themselves and there is a privacy element to making those decisions.
“I don’t think people take the issue lightly. A lot of people have arrived in the view that I’ve arrived at, which is that there is a moral implication to these issues, but that the women involved are in the best position to make that determination. And I don’t think they make it lightly. I don’t think they make it callously, so I reject a comparison between a woman struggling with these issues and Michael Vick fighting dogs for sport. I don’t think that’s sort of how people perceive it.
“Now, this is one of those areas – again, I think it’s important to be honest – where I don’t think you’re ever going to get a complete agreement on this issue. If you believe that life begins at conception, then I can’t change your mind. I think there is a large agreement, for example, that late-term abortions are really problematic and there should be a regulation. And it should only happen in terms of the mother’s life or severe health consequences, so I think there is broad agreement on these issues.
So far, not a bad answer, even if the “some control” part rankles severely (oh, thank you for your generosity, sir). But that wasn’t the end of his response. And I found myself very displeased (emphasis mine):
“One area where I think we should have significant agreement is on the idea of reducing unwanted pregnancies because if we can reduce unwanted pregnancies, then it’s much less likely that people resort to abortion. The way to do that is to encourage young people and older people, people of child-bearing years, to act responsibly. Part of acting responsibly – I’ve got two daughters – part of my job as a parent is to communicate to them that sex isn’t casual and that it’s something that they should really think about and not think is just a game.
“I’m all for education for our young people, encouraging abstinence until marriage, but I also believe that young people do things regardless of what their parents tell them to do and I don’t want my daughters ending up in really difficult situations because I didn’t communicate to them, how to protect themselves if they make a mistake. I think we’ve got to have that kind of comprehensive view that says family planning and education for our young people and so forth – to prevent teen pregnancies, to prevent the kinds of situations that lead to women having to struggle with these difficult decisions and we should be supportive of those efforts. That’s an area where there should be some agreement.”
This is one of those situations where he appears to be advocating a progressive position (comprehensive sex ed for all! Yay!), but he couches it in so much conservative rhetoric (presumably to appeal to swing voters) that I have a hard time not being suspicious of how committed he really is to what he’s apparently espousing. For instance, the talk of “responsibility” for “older people … of child-bearing years.” It’s one thing to teach your own children that sex is not casual or for sport, but adults don’t really need political candidates opining about how responsible they are in the conduct of their private, consensual adult sex lives. Moreover, it sounds an awful lot like the Bush Administration initiative to have the Administration for Children and Families (part of HHS) preach abstinence-only at taxpayer expense to unmarried adults. And “personal responsibility” has too often been used by conservatives as a way to blame individuals for problems that have a systemic basis; i.e., if only you worked harder, you wouldn’t be poor; or if only you had more willpower, you wouldn’t be fat; or, if only you hadn’t spread your legs, you wouldn’t be pregnant, and since you didn’t show responsibility, you shouldn’t be able to escape the consequences of your actions by getting an abortion. It’s always a club to beat people with in that parlance.
That’s not to say, of course, that adult sexuality doesn’t have public health implications; of course it does. But there are well-established, and proven, ways of educating people about safer sex that don’t involve berating anyone for having sex with a frequency or casualness with which you disapprove. Not to mention, there are serious issues with medical privacy, interference with medical decisionmaking, and just plain old good reasonable medical practices that have arisen with regard to contraception and “conscience clauses” that have been used and abused by pharmacists and FDA officials to prevent women from having a full array of contraceptives and emergency contraceptives available to them, whether as a matter of course or as the result of a “mistake” (or, though he fails to mention it, an accident, a rape or a failure of birth control). Why not take a hard medical-privacy line?
And, again, there’s the “encouraging abstinence until marriage” part of his speech. It wasn’t really responsive to what the guy asked (he was all about the innocent, sweet babies), so it’s a little weird that he would just throw that in there. Again, most people will get married as adults. Do we really want the government telling adults whether they should have sex if they’re unmarried? It’s one thing to include abstinence as an option as part of comprehensive sexual education for schoolkids (and I’d rather he have made that point instead), but to promote the same for adults, however implicitly? Particularly when you’re not a big proponent of same-sex marriage?
But okay, that was part of a Q & A, and the response, as I’m sure someone will point out, was “off the cuff.” What about his responses to a questionnaire from RH Reality Check on reproductive health issues?
Senator Obama has demonstrated an ability to engage diverse audiences in talking about these issues in an effort to forge consensus. For instance, in December 2006, Obama went to “the political equivalent of the lion’s den” when he told a conservative Christian audience in Southern California that abstinence-only education was not enough and that he “respectfully but unequivocally” disagrees with those who oppose condom distribution to fight the AIDS pandemic.”
Okay, so he’s a bit clearer there. But if he could stand up to all those conservative pastors in the lion’s den, why did he tell the innocent sweet babies guy that people believe women should have only *some* control over their bodies?
Similarly, this year at a Planned Parenthood conference, Obama emphasized the need for pro-choice groups to align themselves with religious and community groups that are also working on reducing unintended pregnancy.
Well, okay. I’d like to know what those groups are, because if they’re not anti-contraception, there’s a good chance that Planned Parenthood is already working with them. Has he been talking to Amy Sullivan?
He does state that his health plan will require the private insurers who want to participate to provide reproductive health services. So even though I think his plan is a gift to insurance companies and that it won’t cover everyone, he gets serious points for including reproductive health services (as well as mental health services). The scope of reproductive care (i.e., whether that includes abortions) is not elaborated on.
And, to his credit, he does come out strongly here for comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education and calls abstinence-only out as the boondoggle it is; he also supports confidential access to contraception and reproductive health care for teenagers, as well as over-the-counter access to EC. He’s even against the Hyde Amendment and wants to cut off federal funding to crisis pregnancy centers.
So I’m left wondering at the disconnect between his responses to the RH Issues Questionnaire and his responses to Mr. Innocent Sweet Babies. He (or, rather, his staff) responded to the questionnaire with simple, clear answers that gave due consideration to the concerns of parents, but which took a clearly pro-choice position. But to Mr. Innocent Sweet Babies, he hemmed and hawed and volunteered answers that sounded like right-wing talking points about responsibility and the degree to which women should be entitled to exercise control over their bodies and their sex lives.
Maybe he does come out the right way on these issues in the end, but the way he talks about them means something, such as when he responded to a questioner at a town hall meeting shortly after taking office in the Senate:
Joanne Resendiz, a teacher at Ottawa’s Marquette High School and mother of five, stood up and prefaced her question by saying she disagreed with Obama’s support for gay civil unions and abortion.
Resendiz then said the House passed a measure making it illegal to transport a minor across state lines for the purpose of obtaining an abortion.
“How are you going to vote on this, keeping in mind that 10, 15 years down the line your daughters, God forbid, could be transported across state lines?” Resendiz asked.
Obama declined to answer the question directly, saying he had not read the legislation and was wary of rider clauses, while also acknowledging the need to protect minors.
“The decision generally is one that a woman should make,” he finally replied. The crowd that had hushed at Resendiz’ pointed question applauded Obama’s response.
“Generally.” “Some.” The way he talks about my rights and my bodily autonomy makes me uneasy.
Then there’s the way he doesn’t talk about them — his campaign website doesn’t have these issues listed anywhere I can find (Faith? Yes. Women? No).
- Pro-Choice Congressmen More Likely to Have Slutty Daughters by Jill June 18, 2007
- NPR Backs Out of Interview with Abortion Provider by Lauren December 11, 2008
- Feminist Porn: Sex, Consent, and Getting Off by KaeLyn July 23, 2008
- Shameful Behaviour by Guest Blogger September 6, 2010
- Requiring Gardasil for U.S. Immigrants by Jill September 15, 2008