Obama and the Acceptable Abortion

Aw, Barry, say it ain’t so

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.

This post was originally published at Feministe.

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  • http://www.xanga.com/andrea_thatonegirl invalid-0

    I think the problem with Obama here is that to be strongly pro-choice is to potentially lose some votes, votes that are very valuable in a close race such as this. I think most agree that McCain would be the worst choice for women’s rights, but Obama had better not keep his pro-choice stance on the down-low past the election date, or we’re all screwed either way.

  • scott-swenson

    Dear TheNerd,

    Thanks for your comment and while I appreciate your perspective politically, I think what Jill does brilliantly in this piece is to demonstrate how simple it is to be pro-choice, pro-family, and not only mouth the words, but demonstrate real conviction. The problem with trying to dance around the issue and be all things to all people, is that people can see right through that. It is instructive to me, and no great surprise as a man, that the politicians who best articulate progressive values on the abortion issue are women: Sen. Clinton, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (KS), former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (MD) … and that two of three of those women are also Catholic speaks volumes about an American value of education, prevention and choice. Certainly there are others, but Sen. Obama and all men would be well advised to follow the lead of women when discussing these issues. There is no need to run from progressive values, there is only a need to articulate them clearly, and with conviction. Voters can respect that, even if some disagree.

    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    John Kerry lost in 2004 because he kept being all things to all people, he danced around the abortion issue by saying the same thing Obama did, “I’m personally against abortion but…” I had hoped that the democrats would have learned that being a spineless candidate gets you no where and that the 2008 candidate would learn from the mistakes of 2004. Unfortunately it looks like Obama’s people are falling directly into the same trap Kerry did. People vote for candidates who stand up for their positions, even if they don’t totally agree with them. They don’t trust people who switch their positions to appease one group and then have another position the next day for the next group. Unless they turn this around quick Obama is going to suffer the same fate Kerry did and we are going to be living in a very scary world for the next 4 years with a McCain presidency.

    • invalid-0

      “John Kerry lost in 2004 because he kept being all things to all people”
      NO, he lost because he is a traitor, and a liar. He is a real piece of work.
      We are all a bit stupider after listening to him..

  • invalid-0

    As a Clinton voter, it is hard for me to look at the Obama campaign over recent weeks and not say “I told you so.” I like Obama personally and will vote for him in November, but I have never fully bought his promise to be “a new kind of politician.” He continually bashed Senator Clinton on the campaign trail for her refusal to tell Democrats exactly what they wanted to hear, for her political pragmatism and her belief in “the art of the possible.” It’s not quite as inspiring, but a lot more honest. Either I was cynical, or Obama’s young supporters were naive – and I think that he is beginning prove the latter.

    I am disturbed by his comments on abortion not because of the obvious pandering to evangelicals, but because I don’t know how far he is willing to go to get their votes, either now or when looking ahead to reelections.

    I wonder if Barack’s idea of “unity” will look a lot more like “compromise.”

  • invalid-0

    I am in full agreement with Jill – and wish Obama had said he was, too.

    In saying that he is pro-life, he should also say that he wants to see every child born to parents who want the child and think they can give that child a good life.

    To that end, he will promote birth control. Insurance companies would be required to cover birth control, and women under a certain level of income could receive birth control through some sort of government aid.

    Should an unfortunate condition arise where a doctor and patient reach the conclusion that an abortion is necessary, the abortion should proceed – covered by insurance or government aid.

    In addition, realistic sexual education would be required in all schools.

    Pro-life people should be required to contribute or help Planned Parenthood and other agencies promoting a truly pro-life agenda. When in the company of a pro-life person, I frequently ask what they are doing to deter abortions by pushing a truly pro-life agenda.

    How much more pro-life can one get?

    I have never had a forced abortion, although I did have a couple of miscarriages. I had some sense of how a woman feels when losing a baby, no matter what the reason. After the second miscarriage I remember having to force myself to visit a friend with a new baby. That was nothing to having to see a new baby after a forced abortion.

    I am of an age when abstinence was about the only option one had to avoid pregnancy – and no one thought about sex education. I grew up on a farm, and actually did learn a great deal about sex as one on a farm would.

    When in college, other girls and occasional boys would ask me questions about the physical aspects of sex. I could usually answer the questions accurately. It would rather frequently happen that I ended up giving what amounted to sex lectures to 10 – 20 kids in a room.

    I have frequently wondered whether these parents who do not want their kids to have accurate sex education in schools would like to know that an 18 – 20-year old girl from the farm was teaching sex education to their kids. Don’t forget, kids want to know things and will ask. Will those asked have accurate knowledge?

  • invalid-0

    This was a terrific example of how we should respond to the opposition. Rather than doing the arm-twisting that Kerry did when asked a mean-spirited question about abortion, the candidate should discuss the real ins-and-outs that for whatever reason people don’t want to discuss. The United States govt. shouldn’t provide abortions? Mention the cases of rape in the military and the women soldiers who are not even told they can pay for their own. I’m not sure why we don’t like to discuss the messy cases — those cases that make a lie out of politicians and judges, who have the delusion that they can write a water-tight exception rule.

  • invalid-0

    “We” aren’t adopting right-wing frames. Obama is. And. We told you so.

  • invalid-0

    since when is not wanting to KILL a “late-term” baby a bad thing??

    You Nazi jerks are voting based on who will commit infanticide? Are you crazy? Your biggest political issue is ABORTION? I mean.. WOW

    We are not talking about a one-cell embryo here. We are talking about a FETUS. A “Late Term” baby who can survive OUTSIDE the womb. How do you kill it? Do you just stab it’s heart? Crush it’s skull? And WHO is the one with the radical political views? How do you sleep at night?

    Obama AND Hillary are communists, and so are you! “Progressives”…. give me a break. A killer is a killer, and a Communist is a Communist. Wake up

  • invalid-0

    since when is not wanting to KILL a “late-term” baby a bad thing??

    You jerks are voting based on who will commit infanticide? Are you crazy? Your biggest political issue is ABORTION? I mean.. WOW

    We are not talking about a one-cell embryo here. We are talking about a FETUS. A “Late Term” baby who can survive OUTSIDE the womb. How do you kill it? Do you just stab it’s heart? Crush it’s skull? And WHO is the one with the radical political views? How do you sleep at night?

    Obama AND Hillary are communists, and so are you! “Progressives”…. give me a break. A killer is a killer, and a Communist is a Communist. Wake up
    Please anonymous, there’s no need to call pro choicers communists. I also know that abortion is wrong, but if you want to tell them that, don’t insult and attack them. talk about the subject of abortion, not about how stupid they and other pro-aborts are.

  • mellankelly1

      "Late Term" baby who can survive OUTSIDE the womb

    Late term abortion is done due to fetal anomaly or the life/health of the pregnant woman.  Your inability to imagine what these women go thru appears to be par for the course for the anti-abortion advocates.  I’ll bet the experiences of these women would put an end to that vile piffle that you spew.  Unless, of course, you happen to be a sociopath…

  • invalid-0

    what is the color of the sky in the parallel universe you inhabit? Go crack a dictionary and read the true definition of “communist”. Neither Obama nor Clinton fit it the description. Unless you were reading Conserveapedia?
    A late term abortion is only resorted to if an OB/GYN determines continuing the pregnancy is a threat to the woman’s life, health or fertility. OR if the fetus has a condition which is “incompatible with life”. An example is the fetus’s brain has failed to develop and there is nothing in the skull but fluid.
    Focussing solely on the fetus is a distraction. The true issue is the oppostion to reproductive rights of a vocal, well organized and well financed third party that calls itself “pro life”.
    “Pro life” see no problem with violating a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, due process and the right to decide when to have children. “Prolife” has gone even further over the line by opposing hormonal birth control, and emergency contraception. “Pro life” cares little for life after birth, if national prolife organizations really did, “pro life” would instruct their Republican servants (sorry, Congress critters) not to oppose bills that benefit born children, like SCHIP.
    I must make it clear not all pro lifers are like this, some really do walk the walk in caring about the welfare of already born children, wide access to contraception. They oppose the death penalty and lie-based invasions of other nations. They also want more comphrehensive sex ed to reduce the rate of unwanted pregnancies.