In October, RH Reality Check developed a questionnaire for the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, designed to help our readers distinguish between the various contenders' positions on sexual and reproductive health and rights — beyond the sole issue of abortion. Our questions were designed to get under the surface of the candidates' rhetoric on reproductive rights and clarify how far each one was willing to go to support concrete policy changes to back up his or her stated beliefs. Sen. Barack Obama's campaign staff answers Andrea Lynch's questions below.
Why do you consider Sen. Obama to be the strongest candidate on reproductive health and rights?
Throughout his career, Senator Obama has consistently championed a woman's right to choose, earning him 100% ratings from pro-choice groups during his tenure in the Illinois State Senate and the United States Senate. In 2005, he was the honorary chair of Planned Parenthood of Chicago Area's Roe v. Wade celebration. And he has not shied away from tough battles. In the Illinois State Senate, Obama worked hand-in-hand with advocacy groups to protect women's reproductive health.
And just last year, Obama was the only U.S. Senator who supported a fundraising initiative to defeat a proposed abortion ban in South Dakota. And Senator Obama was the only presidential candidate to weigh in on the controversy surrounding the opening of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Aurora.
What sets Sen. Obama's platform apart from the other contenders on issues of reproductive health and rights?
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." Obama drew a standing ovation from the 2,072 pastors and others who came from 39 states and 18 nations.
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. Obama has also focused on the high teen pregnancy rate. In addition to co-sponsoring the Prevention First Act, Obama has introduced a bill that would devote resources to combating the high teen pregnancy rate in communities of color.
How does Sen. Obama's healthcare plan specifically address sexual and reproductive health, family planning, pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and other STDs?
Senator Obama believes that reproductive health care is basic health care. His health care plan will create a new public plan, which will provide coverage of all essential medical services. Reproductive health care is an essential service – just like mental health care and disease management and other preventive services under his plan.
And private insurers that want to participate will have to treat reproductive care in the same way.
Does Sen. Obama support comprehensive sexuality education? Does he believe that the federal government should continue to fund abstinence-only-until marriage programs, despite evidence that they are ineffective at preventing unintended pregnancy and STDs?
Yes, Senator Obama supports comprehensive sex education. He believes that we should not continue to fund abstinence-only programs. Over the last decade, the federal government has spent $1.5 billion in taxpayer dollars on "abstinence-only" programs that have not been successful. While abstinence is one approach to reducing unintended pregnancies and STDs, Obama believes we should also support comprehensive and age-appropriate sex education. Obama is an original co-sponsor of the Prevention First Act, which will ensure that all taxpayer-funded federal programs are medically accurate and include information about contraception.
Does Sen. Obama support adolescents' access to confidential family planning and reproductive health services, without having to seek permission from their parents? Why or why not?
Yes. As the father of two daughters, Senator Obama understands that parents do not want to imagine their teenage child might need to seek counsel on reproductive health. He believes, first and foremost, that parents should be the first and primary source of support. But Obama also recognizes that not every child is in a loving home with a parent or trusted adult to turn to in such a situation. For young women in such circumstances, Obama wants to be sure that there is access to a trained health care provider that can provide needed services or help them make good decisions.
Does Sen. Obama believe that contraception should be covered by private insurance plans and under insurance plans for federal employees? Why or why not?
Does Sen. Obama agree with the FDA's decision to make emergency contraception over the counter for people 18 and over? Does he think adolescents should be able to access emergency contraception over the counter as well? Why or why not?
Senator Obama supports the FDA's decision to make emergency contraception (EC) available over the counter for people 18 and over. Obama recognizes that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other medical experts have reported that EC use is safe for women of all reproductive age and have called for improved access to EC. Although Obama strongly believes that parents or other trusted adults should be engaged in all reproductive health decisions involving teenagers and adolescents, he also recognizes that not every young women has access to such support. As such, he does believe that teenagers should be able to access EC over the counter. As noted above, he supports the right of adolescents to seek confidential family planning services.
Does Sen. Obama support any restrictions on abortion, or does he believe it should be entirely up to women?
Obama supports those restrictions that are consistent with the legal framework outlined by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade.
Does Sen. Obama support the Hyde amendment? Under what circumstances does he believe that Medicaid should cover abortions (all pregnancies, life- or health-threatening pregnancies, pregnancies that are a result of rape or incest, extreme fetal malformation)?
Obama does not support the Hyde amendment. He believes that the federal government should not use its dollars to intrude on a poor woman's decision whether to carry to term or to terminate her pregnancy and selectively withhold benefits because she seeks to exercise her right of reproductive choice in a manner the government disfavors.
Does Sen. Obama believe adolescents should have the right to choose abortion, or should they be required to seek their parents' consent? Why or why not? Are there any circumstances that might make a compelling case for waiving the parental consent requirement?
As a parent, Obama believes that young women, if they become pregnant, should talk to their parents before considering an abortion. But he realizes not all girls can turn to their mother or father in times of trouble, and in those instances, we should want these girls to seek the advice of trusted adults – an aunt, a grandmother, a pastor.
Unfortunately, instead of encouraging pregnant teens to seek the advice of adults, most parental consent bills that come before Congress or state legislatures criminalize adults who attempt to help a young woman in need and lack judicial bypass and other provisions that would permit exceptions in compelling cases.
Does Sen. Obama support continuing federal funding for crisis pregnancy centers? Why or why not?
If elected president, what specific measures would Sen. Obama support for women who choose to become mothers (prenatal care, maternity leave, childcare, healthcare for children)?
Under Obama's health care plan, women will be able to receive coverage of prenatal care under the new public health plan. And participating private insurers will be required to provide the same coverage.
Obama has proposed a $1.5 billion fund to encourage all fifty states to adopt paid leave programs. Under these programs, women would be entitled to take paid maternity leave.
Does Sen. Obama believe that gay and lesbian couples should be able to adopt children?
If elected president, would Sen. Obama overturn the Global Gag Rule or reinstate funding for UNFPA?
Yes, Senator Obama would overturn the global gag rule and reinstate funding for UNFPA.
Want More? We've Got It!
Read the statement from Sen. Chris Dodd's campaign.
What about the Democratic contenders who didn't respond to our questionnaire? We did their homework for them, mining through their previous public statements to find their positions, right here.
And the Republicans? Concrete information on the Republican candidates' positions and commitments on reproductive health and rights is harder to come by, since their websites generally only include information about the issue of abortion. But here's what we were able to come up with.