Barack Obama waxed not-so-poetic about late term abortion,
the federal abortion ban and the validity of mental health exceptions in said
ban to the Christian magazine Relevant
last week, telling the interviewer that states should have the right to
restrict or ban late term abortions. And Obama made no bones about the fact
that, as he sees it, "mental distress" should not qualify as a threat to "the
health of the mother". He was referring to the health exceptions the Supreme Court has
deemed unnecessary in order to ensure the constitutionality of the
(medically-ambiguous-at-best term) "partial birth abortion" ban ignoring the
health exceptions explicitly required in Roe v. Wade and its "companion" ruling, Doe v.
Last year, in a questionnaire on reproductive health issues
sent out to all of the presidential candidates at that time, Barack Obama’s campaign had
this to say to RH Reality Check:
RH Reality Check: 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.
Roe v. Wade allows the law to consider a woman’s mental
health as well as her physical health when making decisions about late term
abortion. Presumably, therefore, Obama should support the mental health
exception as presented in Roe v. Wade. But that’s not what his recent comments suggested
to many reporters, journalists and media outlets.
The mainstream, progressive and conservative news media all went
ballistic. The Baltimore
Sun asked if Obama was for "Weakening Roe v. Wade?" The Bay Area Indymedia
shouted, "Anti-Abortion Obama – He Gets Worse by the Minute" while over at The
National Review online, Ramesh Ponnuru’s sarcastically titled post, "Obama on
Abortion (For Now)" takes the Senator to task for still not being anti-choice
enough (what? Obama thinks there should be any
exceptions for the woman’s health when it comes to late term abortion?!).
Offering pro-choice legislators some credit, campaign spokeswoman
Shannon Gilson clarified yesterday,
"Senator Obama…recognizes that some people view these health
exceptions not as exceptions, but as a way around these restrictions.
Senator Obama believes that while ‘mental distress’ should not be
covered by a health exception, there will be cases where carrying to
term a pregnancy may seriously damage a woman’s mental health and those
cases should be covered. He believes that we can craft well-defined
health exceptions – as pro-choice legislators have
tried in Congress and in state legislatures – that address those concerns and fully protect women’s health."
What is the truth about Obama’s position on this issue?
Did Obama’s statements reveal his real stance on abortion
access and rights for women? Or was it a political misstep, kow-towing to the
religious media and telling the young, twenty-something readers of the
Christian magazine what they wanted to hear? Maybe Barack Obama just hasn’t
thought this through to the degree that he needs to.
Remember McCain’s embarrassing spate of ignorance last year
when grilled by a reporter about contraception/condoms and HIV transmission? He
was, in his own words, "stumped" and told the reporter he didn’t know his
position because he wasn’t "informed enough about it."
But what should we make of Obama’s statements last year in response
to the Supreme Court decision allowing the federal abortion ban to remain?
"I strongly disagree with today’s Supreme Court ruling,
which dramatically departs from previous precedents safeguarding the health of
pregnant women. As Justice Ginsburg emphasized in her dissenting opinion, this
ruling signals an alarming willingness on the part of the conservative majority
to disregard its prior rulings respecting a woman’s medical concerns and the
very personal decisions between a doctor and patient. I am extremely concerned that this ruling will embolden state
legislatures to enact further measures to restrict a woman’s right to choose,
and that the conservative Supreme Court justices will look for other
opportunities to erode Roe v. Wade, which is established federal law and a
matter of equal rights for women." [Emphasis mine]
Less than one year ago, Obama was
standing firmly against any state restrictions on late term abortion. Less than
one year ago, Obama did not differentiate
between respecting a woman’s physical medical concerns and her mental and
emotional concerns. There was no mention then that the very personal decisions
between a doctor and a patient should stand only if politicians deem them correct
Where is the truth now?
The "truth" that I’m looking
for from Barack Obama, from John McCain, from all of our politicians – is not
the one truth about these issues but their own truths.
Does Barack Obama now honestly believe that a small
percentage of the already tiny percentage of women who undergo late term
abortions, those who, under the advice of a skilled physician, decide that a
D&X is the safest procedure, if a heart-wrenching one, for them, are
somehow not broken enough to receive
More to the point: does Barack Obama’s truth point him
towards erring on the side of giving women less control over their own health
and bodies, while giving government more?
Does Barack Obama’s truth allow him to accept the
politically-created, medically meaningless term "partial birth abortion" as he
speaks to the upholding or creation of laws based on the term?
I hope not.
I want Obama to understand what an utterly pointless
distraction this entire issue is. I want him to realize how sweetly and utterly
he has played into the hands of those who want only to entrap him in political
sport where the only winners are the leaders of the anti-choice organizations
who originally created the term "partial birth abortion;" the leaders who
insist on pushing presidential candidates into a mindless corner in which they must endlessly
discuss medical procedures that should be the domain of physicians and their
Many have already argued and will argue brilliantly, from
places both personal and professional, the importance of mental health
exceptions in any abortion ban, patiently describing to Senator Obama why his
declaration is wrong, that only "serious mental health complications" (and not,
as he puts it "just feeling blue") should be legally accepted as the golden key
to the medical exception passageway on the way to a late term abortion.
I choose only to ask Barack Obama to resist the urge to play
the game that will get him nowhere. Last year Barack Obama told an interviewer
that he supported the choice position because he "trusts women to make a
I’m going to ask Barack Obama to do the same.