Strang: Based on emails we received, another issue of deep importance to our readers is a candidate’s stance on abortion. We largely know your platform, but there seems to be some real confusion about your position on third-trimester and partial-birth abortions. Can you clarify your stance for us?
Obama: I absolutely can, so please don’t believe the emails. I have repeatedly said that I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don’t think that “mental distress” qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.
That quote is from here. And while that piece is certainly the most offensive, I’m also not thrilled with his answer here:
Strang: You’ve said you’re personally against abortion and would like to see a reduction in the number of abortions under your administration. So, as president, how would do you propose accomplishing that?
Obama: I think we know that abortions rise when unwanted pregnancies rise. So, if we are continuing what has been a promising trend in the reduction of teen pregnancies, through education and abstinence education giving good information to teenagers. That is important—emphasizing the sacredness of sexual behavior to our children. I think that’s something that we can encourage. I think encouraging adoptions in a significant way. I think the proper role of government. So there are ways that we can make a difference, and those are going to be things I focus on when I am president.
I love Obama. I find him incredibly inspiring. I’ve had a lot of silly, idealistic little hopes pinned on him. I so badly want him to be a candidate who stands up for progressive values without apology. Instead, it looks like he’s taking the traditional Democratic route of moving towards the center and trying to please everyone.
This is why Democrats are losing the abortion-rights battle: We’re adopting the right-wing frame and rhetoric, and speaking in their terms. The question “How can we reduce the abortion rate?” is an easy gimme for any pro-choice candidate. You say: “Education, health care and contraception access are the most effective ways to decrease the need for abortion. Abstinence-only sex education has been a colossal failure, and around the world we can see that the abortion rate is lowest in countries with comprehensive sex ed programs, wide-spread access to contraception, health care for all, and a strong social safety net. We know what works; but it’s Republicans who continuously block legislation that would decrease the abortion rate. Democrats in Congress have repeatedly tried to increase contraception access for all women, and have tried to promote initiatives that would make it easier for women to choose to have children — initiatives like aid to low-income families, subsidized day-care programs, and early childhood education. It is the Democratic party that has taken important steps to actually decrease the abortion rate, while the supposedly “pro-life” Republicans have put barriers in the way of pregnancy prevention, then limited abortion access, and then made life more difficult for women and their children. It seems that “pro-life” Republicans only care about life up until the moment of birth — and they have taken no steps to actually decrease the need for abortion. By contrast, my administration will take a comprehensive, truly life-affirming view: We will support women, men and children at all stages of life, and we will give Americans as many options as possible to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.”
Not hard. Instead, Obama used talking points that I would expect to hear from John McCain: Abstinence education. The sacredness of sexual behavior. Adoption.
I realize he’s talking to a Christian magazine, and so he needs to frame the issue in a way that resonates with Christian readers. But “Christian” or even “pro-life” does not equal “Republican,” or “pro-life” in the way that mainstream anti-choice organizations and politicians are “pro-life.” A whole lot of self-identified pro-life people don’t actually want to see women dying of dangerous illegal abortions; a lot of pro-life people realize that criminalizing the procedure isn’t the answer, and that instead we should decrease the need for abortion through common-sense measures like education, contraception, economic justice and universal health care. That’s a big block of voters; I’d like to hear Obama talk to them — in part because the Republican party claims to speak for them, but doesn’t actually represent their interests.
And I’d like to see Obama stand up for his pro-choice base. The issue of late-term abortions is a tricky one, because anti-choicers trot it out as if huge numbers of women were waiting until the eighth month of pregnancy to terminate. In reality, third-trimester abortions count for about one-half of one percent of all abortions. It’s already nearly impossible to obtain a late-term abortion in much of the country, and it is actually impossible to obtain one for purely elective purposes. Women who terminate pregnancies in the third trimester aren’t doing it for kicks; they’re doing it because they have some sort of serious health problem that requires it, or there’s a fetal abnormality.
Obama did say he supports late-term abortion rights in the case of a physical medical problem, but he took out mental health as a legitimate concern. That’s a talking point that you hear a lot from anti-choicers: That mental health is a “loophole” through which any undeserving baby-carrier could legitimately terminate her pregnancy.
But mental health underlies many of actual reasons women have late-term abortions. Take severe fetal abnormalities — where a wanted pregnancy goes wrong, and the problem isn’t discovered until relatively late. In many situations — anencephaly, for example — carrying the pregnancy to term might not be any more dangerous than carrying a healthy fetus to term. Pregnancy and childbirth always come with serious risks, and it’s often impossible to know which risks will arise, but many fetal abnormalities don’t pose the kind of physical harm to the pregnant woman that would seem to pass anti-choice (and now, Obama) muster. (To be clear, many fetal abnormalities do pose significant health risks — it’s just not the rule. Which is precisely why this issue should be evaluated case-by-case between a woman and her doctor, and politicians should butt out). So even though many fetal abnormalities don’t threaten the pregnant woman’s health or life, most people seem to agree that it’s cruel to force a woman to give birth to a baby that cannot possibly survive (if it’s even born alive, which many anencephalic fetuses aren’t). But if a doomed pregnancy doesn’t threaten a pregnant woman’s physical health, why would we allow her to terminate it?
Because, obviously, it threatens her mental health in no small way. Being forced to carry a wanted but doomed pregnancy, and being forced to go through childbirth to produce a dead or dying baby, is understandably deeply emotionally traumatic. We want to give women the option to avoid that kind of mental trauma because we recognize that physical harm is not the only harm that matters.
And the psychological harm of being forced to give birth against your will to a baby that will not survive is not the only kind of psychological harm that matters. It is impossible to account for all the circumstances under which mental issues may seriously impair the ability of a pregnant woman to function, and may be just as threatening as physical issues. People face diverse circumstances, and when it comes to health and medical care, sweeping rules can cause widespread harm. Which is why when it comes to issues like abortion and other medical procedures, we should err on the side of providing care, not limiting it, and we should allow individual circumstances to be best evaluated by the people living those circumstances and the doctors treating them.
That is the position that we expect pro-choice politicians to stake out. Either Obama caved to anti-choicers on this one, or he really believes it and isn’t as strongly pro-choice as many of us thought. I’m not sure which is worse.
Similar Posts (automatically generated):
- Punishment by Jill March 31, 2008
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- Plans by Jill February 4, 2008
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- Abortion and Health Care: Is there common ground? by Jill August 10, 2009