Counterpoint: Abortion, Obama

November 4, 2008 | 34 comments
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Barack Obama has sought to bring pro-lifers and pro-choicers together to find a middle ground on the issue of abortion. With the help of noted conservative legal scholar, pro-life activist, and former Romney supporter Doug Kmiec, Obama instigated the effort to amend the Democratic Party platform on abortion to explicitly recognize life and the decision to have a child:

The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre and post natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.

The platform continues to have the reduction in frequency of abortions as an end goal:

“We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.”

The revisions to the platform won praise from pro-life advocates (see here and here).

Doug Kmiec has elaborated at length on his decision, as a pro-life activist, to endorse Obama. Just last month he released a book laying out his arguments in support of Obama. He has stressed that it is more than unclear whether the Supreme Court would ever overturn Roe v. Wade and its subsequent precedent. Morever, even if it did, abortion would not be illegal, it would be merely sent back to the states for each regulate or prohibit on a state-by-state basis.

Of his decision to endorse Obama, Kmiec has said:

What convinced me about his integrity on those issues was his willingness to talk about social responsibility to audiences that aren’t used to hearing that message. For example, when he went to speak to Planned Parenthood, he could have done what every Democrat does: wave the pro-choice flag and talk about defending Roe. He did that, but he also said something very important, that sexual intimacy has to be culturally understood as being a mature choice about being open to creating new life and the responsibility of new life, and that we have an obligation in our churches and in our schools to convey that information.

And so at some point you have to decide whether the incidence of abortion will be more affected by the another conservative Republican appointing the right person to the Supreme court, and resolved as a legal issue, or by a candidate who wants to end the politics of division and who has a healthy responsibility for religion and its place in public thinking and public discourse. I came to the conclusion that his personal faith journey, which causes him to fully recognize how faith answers the hunger in the human soul, and his willingness to talk about self-responsibility, would make him mindful of opposing views on abortion.

Through his endorsement, Kmiec has gained access to and influence over Obama, worked with him to amend the Democratic platform, and has pledged to work with him to reduce the frequency of abortion during an Obama presidency through constructively approaching the abortion “clash of absolutes” and lobbying for things like the 95-10 Initiative.

Obama has always spoken respectfully of and actively courted pro-life voters. In the candidate’s last debate, Obama said: “I think that abortion is a very difficult issue and it is a moral issue and one that I think good people on both sides can disagree on.” He is seeking, however, to find common ground with pro-life supporters like Doug Kmiec. In his platform, Obama states that he will support the cause of life by “drastically reducing abortions through giving women and families the support and the tools they need to choose life.”

From that same debate, in response to McCain’s allegations about the “born alive” legislation, Obama said:

If it sounds incredible that I would vote to withhold lifesaving treatment from an infant, that’s because it’s not true. The — here are the facts. There was a bill that was put forward before the Illinois Senate that said you have to provide lifesaving treatment and that would have helped to undermine Roe v. Wade. The fact is that there was already a law on the books in Illinois that required providing lifesaving treatment, which is why not only myself but pro-choice Republicans and Democrats voted against it. And the Illinois Medical Society, the organization of doctors in Illinois, voted against it. Their Hippocratic Oath would have required them to provide care, and there was already a law in the books.

With respect to partial-birth abortion, I am completely supportive of a ban on late-term abortions, partial-birth or otherwise, as long as there’s an exception for the mother’s health and life, and this did not contain that exception. And I attempted, as many have in the past, of including that so that it is constitutional. And that was rejected, and that’s why I voted present, because I’m willing to support a ban on late-term abortions as long as we have that exception.

The last point I want to make on the issue of abortion. This is an issue that — look, it divides us. And in some ways, it may be difficult to — to reconcile the two views. But there surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and say, “We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.” Those are all things that we put in the Democratic platform for the first time this year, and I think that’s where we can find some common ground, because nobody’s pro-abortion. I think it’s always a tragic situation. We should try to reduce these circumstances.

Ultimately, boiling one’s vote down to a single issue like abortion — one on which pro-life presidents’ historically have had little influence — ignores a broad swath of other extremely important and relevant issues and can undermine legitimate debate in these areas. Moreover, I think there are plenty of good reasons why a Mormon may decide to support Barack Obama, including his economic policies, his push to move beyond divisive partisanship, and his stand on moral issues like poverty, the environment, foreign policy and our conduct in the war on terror.

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34 Responses to Counterpoint: Abortion, Obama

  1. Aluwid on November 4, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Are you trying to crash your website again?

  2. Russell Arben Fox on November 4, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    Since I linked to it in Adam’s post, I might as well put it here as well: my decision not to vote for McCain (and more on the reasons why I support Obama) even though I strongly suspect that church leaders are moving in the direction of putting the issue of abortion to members in far more black-and-white terms than Obama’s contortions would allow. As Mormon who opposes the extension of abortion rights, I can’t help but recognize that there is something deeply troubling about my willingness to vote for a such a strongly pro-choice candidate.

  3. Agellius on November 4, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    I keep hearing about Obama’s “push to move beyond divisive partisanship”, but what does that mean, exactly? I understand that he has one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate. Shouldn’t someone who is really trying to bridge the divide between the parties, have a voting record that is neither extremely liberal nor extremely conservative? Someone like, oh, John McCain for instance?

  4. Kathryn Lynard Soper on November 4, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    Thanks for this, Marc. Three cheers for the changes to the Dem. platform; fingers crossed for the future.

  5. Jeremy on November 4, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    Agellius,

    First, the methodology the National Journal uses to rank the “most liberal” senators is extremely fishy. It ranks senators not by how liberal the bills are for which they vote, but simply how consistently they vote. So, for example, Obama moved up in the “liberal” rankings by voting for the implementation of the recommendations of the 9-11 commission. I hear this “most liberal” label come up very frequently, but I rarely hear any follow up about the outrageously liberal bills that he voted for to earn that ranking.

    If you’re looking for bipartisanship, consider Obama’s anti-terrorism work with Lugar or his anti-corruption work with Coburn, or the ethics package that he spearheaded in the Senate, for which he managed to secure 92 out of 100 votes. John McCain, on the other hand, bragged about how frequently he voted with his party (90%+) back when he was trying to secure his party’s nomination.

    Imagine one year from now. Can you imagine McCain and Palin making ANY headway on the abortion issue (setting aside for the moment that fact that they’d have a dem house and senate)? Can you imagine them bringing different and differing parties to the table and meeting with any success? I have difficulty envisioning that scenario. On the other hand, I fully anticipate Obama being facilitating a productive dialogue between different, even opposing, parties on how to reduce abortions.

  6. Julie M. Smith on November 4, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Thank you, Marc.

  7. Jonovitch on November 4, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    A very good friend of mine in my ward decided to vote Obama today — here’s his reasoning on this issue:

    “While I am vehemently pro-life, I am skeptical of a republican president succeeding in placing more pro-life judges on the supreme court in the face of a decidedly left-leaning congress. Even so, that doesn’t guarantee an overturn of Roe v Wade, and even so, I’m not convinced that such an overturn is the be-and-end-all of pro-life goals.

    “If you’ll excuse my political incorrectness, I believe it’s possible that the ability of an Obama presidency to engage and inspire young black men and women to greater hights could do more to reduce the prevalance of abortion in America than could a McCain presidency.”

    Jon

  8. Adam Greenwood on November 4, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    There was a bill that was put forward before the Illinois Senate that said you have to provide lifesaving treatment and that would have helped to undermine Roe v. Wade.

    The bill did require lifesaving treatment. As Obama knows, an Illinois law could never “undermine” Roe v. Wade, a federal constitutional decision. Further, Obama opposed a version of the bill that included an express statement that it only applied if there were no conflicts with Roe. The only true statement here is that Obama opposed a bill that would have required lifesaving treatment. As chairman of the committee that heard the bill, Obama was personally responsible for killing it himself on more than one occasion. Later, when it made it to the floor over his opposition, he was the only legislature who spoke against it, though I believe others voted against it, or at least voted “present.”

    The fact is that there was already a law on the books in Illinois that required providing lifesaving treatment

    The Attorney General of Illinois provided an opinion that the law already on the books did not require the treatment. This opinion was made available to the legislature, including to Obama. Obama heard evidence that live-birth abortion babies were being abandoned to die. He has never contested any of this. And there is absolutely no record that at the time he opposed born alive infant protection because he thought the law was redundant. Instead he went on record as opposing it because it would burden the original decision to have an abortion.

    These points were mostly all discussed in my post. A “counterpoint” should show some awareness of the points it is attempting to counter.

  9. Hans on November 4, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    I was still undecided going in until today. This may have tipped it for me. Well, this and the Economist’s endorsement. The devil is always in the details when someone voted for or against a bill. Or in John Kerry’s case, for and against a nearly identical bill.

  10. Richard Sopp on November 4, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    Kmiec can try to whitewash it any way he wants but the fact remains that when it comes down to it, Obama sides with the radical pro-abortion lobby on every piece of important legislations and he will appoint judges that support his views. If he believes that there will be fewer abortions under an Obama presidency, he is seriously mistaken.

    Obama and Biden love to have it both ways. Biden says in the debate with Palin that he opposes gay marriage but on the Ellen show says that he opposes Proposition 8. In other words, I oppose gay marriage unless I am asked to vote on it. He and Obama don’t want conservative voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania to know what their true positions are.

  11. Jennifer on November 4, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    I read the first sentence and you lost me. Obama is so pro-abortion he reeks with it! I did not vote for Obama.

  12. Christopher on November 4, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    Thanks for this, Marc.

    Your last paragraph is especially appreciated.

  13. lamonte on November 4, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Marc – Thank you for this thoughtful explanation of Obama’s position and Kmiec’s justification for supporting Obama. As a life long Democrat, it has certainly been a compromise on my part to continue to support a party whose platform had but one plank that was so distasteful to me. I see significant movement at the head of the party under Obama’s leadership on this issue and I think there will continue to be movement in the right direction. Your comments, or those of Kmiec, suggesting that electing pro-life presidents who support pro-life justices has done little to change the assault on the unborn are perfectly appropriate. Evidence has proven that good economic conditions have helped to reduce the number of abortions performed as much or more than adstinence only or sex education classes. As Obama stated during the debate, abortion is a difficult issue that “…good people on both sides can disagree on.” I agree.

  14. Christopher on November 4, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Jennifer, maybe you should read the rest of the post before making such sweeping generalizations. Marc presents a lot here that is certainly worth thinking about, even if in the end, Obama’s stance on the issue still bothers you.

  15. john willis on November 4, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    I have read Kmiec’s book and was impressed. He was an adviser to Mitt Romney before switch to Obama.
    In an interview on beliefnet.com he discussed how had been involved in cases when he was with the Regan and and first Bush administtation in which he asked the U.S, Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. He indicated that he and his wife had recently been involved in counseling unmarried, pregnant college students to encourage them to have their babies and not get an abortion. He indicated that the counseling was much more meaningful to him, and he was convinced more worthwhile than his legal work.
    If the Church and Church members will now put a fraction of the effort we put into the proposition 8 fight( I speak as an Arizona resident who has just voted for prop. 102 ,Arizona\’s version of prop 8 without a great deal of enthusiasim) into actions such as volunteering with crisis pregnancy centers, lobbying for changes in adoption laws , increased subsides for adoptive parents, greater medical and financial support for unmarried mothers (even if this ,horror of horrors requires increased taxes) we will do more good and create goodwill for the Church. Contrast this with the results in the prop 8 fight regardless of how that turns out.

  16. JimD on November 4, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    It seems a little disingenuous to claim that presidents can’t influence abortion in the US, when the fundamental roadblock to abortion legislation is imposed by a Supreme Court comprised of justices selected by the President.

    Obama’s not going to push a “compromise” in any meaningful sense of the word. When the negotiations are over, the libs will have exactly what they wanted when they came to the table. And the conservatives will walk away with a curious feeling that they’ve been screwed, yet not sure exactly how or why it happened. Such is the power of The One.

  17. bbell on November 4, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    Obabma has indicated that one of his first acts if elected is to sign the “Freedom of Choice Act”

    Clearly he is pro-abortion and its hard to run away from a clear and consistent voting record. He even stated that he did not want his daughters punished for a “mistake”.

  18. Brad Kramer on November 4, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    \”I read the first sentence and you lost me. Obama is so pro-abortion he reeks with it! I did not vote for Obama.\”

    You missed a real opportunity here, Marc. Sounds like you had a real shot at convincing Jennifer and you blew it.

    For shame.

  19. Silus Grok on November 4, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    Those of you who insist on using the label “pro-abortion” in this discussion are no better than those who insist that the Church is a cult/un-Christian. Have the decency to use the label the group uses for themselves — or, at the very least, a label which isn’t patently wrong. You’d be hard-pressed to find people who are “pro-abortion”.

  20. queuno on November 4, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    If you only concern yourself with one issue, are you giving up the right to opine on other issues?

  21. queuno on November 4, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    Those of you who insist on using the label “pro-abortion” in this discussion are no better than those who insist that the Church is a cult/un-Christian. Have the decency to use the label the group uses for themselves — or, at the very least, a label which isn’t patently wrong. You’d be hard-pressed to find people who are “pro-abortion”.

    Using the same calculus observed often in the Bloggernacle, the Church is pro-abortion.

  22. Silus Grok on November 4, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    I’ve always suspected as much, Queuno.

  23. Martin Willey on November 4, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    John Willis: I think your suggestions are great examples of “promot[ing] those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society,” though not the measures most members of the Church think of.

  24. john willis on November 4, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    For Martin Wiley— As they used to say on the Bartles and James wine commercials, thank you for your support.

  25. Raymond Takashi Swenson on November 4, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    The American Medical Association stated, when the partial birth abortion issue was before Congress, that there is no medical justification for an abortion at the end of a normal term of pregnancy. A partial birth abortion involves giving birth, just like in normal delivery, but with the addition of killing the baby before it is all the way out. The plain fact is that there is no “health” need for an abortion in the last month of pregnancy, when the risks of abortion and of live birth are the same. A large percentage of mothers deliver via C-Section. If giving birth through the birth canal has acute medical risks, a C-Section is performed. There is no need to kill the baby. After the mother has gone through eight months of pregnancy, the acute risks of childbirth are going to be there for an abortion as well. The only reason to kill the child in that case is that one doesn’t want to be bothered with signing the paperwork to put the baby up for adoption.

    All of the ameliorative measures that Obama supporters talk about as “helping to reduce the incidence of abortion” can be done at the state level. So where are the great reductions in abortions in states like California, New York, and Illinois where Democrats dominate government? Hasn’t happened. The availability of unlimited abortion encourages risky sexual behavior and laxity about contraception. Even though contraception is cheap and available in many forms, and its use is taught in many public schools, the number of abortions each year has not declined materially.

    Roe v. Wade was a judicial usurpation of authority. There was no language in the Constitution protecting an unlimited, unregulated abortion license. Even free speech, religious exercise and free press have certain government restrictions (such as defamation laws), yet abortion has been made, by judicial fiat, into a right without restrictions, greater than any that were explicitly made a part of the Constitution through democratic processes. If a president could appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would return the responsibility for regulating the time, place, and manner of abortion to the states, then we could have abortion limited by reason (such as the Church’s position), rather than the current regime, where a doctor can have his license revoked for prescribing most medications to a minor without parental consent, but is given carte blanche to prescribe risky contraceptives and perform abortions to uneducated and immature children.

  26. Matt Evans on November 4, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    Those of you who insist on using the label “pro-abortion” in this discussion are no better than those who insist that Stephen A. Douglas was “pro-slavery” when really he was PRO-CHOICE. Douglas didn’t own slaves and thought owning slaves was wrong, but he was ahead of his time in fighting for pro-choice principles, articulately arguing that each person, territory and state must have the freedom to decide for itself whether negroes should be owned and sold and whipped.

    Pro-choicers mourn the death of their hero.

  27. John C. on November 4, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    Matt,

    Did you just make pro-choicers argument for them?

  28. Matt Evans on November 4, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    No, Stephen A. Douglas made their argument for them.

  29. Steve Evans on November 4, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    Stephen Douglas Evans barely makes his own arguments, let alone the arguments of others. Just FYI.

  30. Brad Kramer on November 4, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    You’re a sad, sad little man, Matt.

  31. Matt Evans on November 5, 2008 at 1:06 am

    Worse than sad. With everyone who reveres our inalienable right to life, I’m devestated. Obamination will appoint justices and implement policies that will put America another generation back from recognizing our founding promise that we’re all, truly, Created Equal.

  32. jjohnsen on November 5, 2008 at 11:58 am

    Oh boy, now it begins. Let me guess, along with rampant abortions we’ll all be communists within four years?

  33. Kent Larsen on November 5, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    Marc:

    Thank you for this post. I appreciate an attempt to see both sides of the issue and argue cogently about them.

    The biggest problem I have with the “pro-life” anti-abortion movement is its general failure to recognize the reasonable elements of the “pro-choice” position.

    I hear plenty of arguments for why abortion is evil and wrong, and few arguments about why it is government’s responsibility to get involved, and even fewer arguments that recognize the problems that would arise by making abortions illegal: – widespread illegal abortions, some of which would kill mothers in addition to their fetuses; more children not wanted or abandoned by their parents and the resulting effects on society; more poverty among (usually) single women who end up trying to raise children they didn’t want (even if they love them); etc.

    As reprehensible and immoral as I believe abortion is, I do recognize that the calculus is a bit different when you are deciding for a society as a whole than it is when you are deciding for yourself and your family, or even for a religion, membership in which is voluntary.

    Sure abortion is illegal, so is killing, yet we sanction the state to do just that in capital punishment, law enforcement and military operations, sometimes for rationals that are as weak and immoral as those used by the mythical women who get frivolous abortions.

    At this point, my preference would be for carefully thought out and carefully implemented laws and programs targeted at reducing abortions. I cannot in good conscience support a sharp, hastily-made, radical change in policy to enforce the morals of a portion of society on everyone, even if they are my morals.

    Couldn’t we please look for compromise? For ways that we can move towards a better morality? Couldn’t we look toward the common ground between the sides — the idea that children should be raised in loving, supportive families? Focus on that, and I believe over time we can figure out a lot of ways to reduce, and perhaps even eliminate most abortions.

  34. Jeremy Jensen on November 6, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    The only thing I have to add to this conversation is that many countries, such as Brazil and Chile, where abortions are illegal have abortion rates that dwarf those of countries where abortion is legal but that have strong social safety nets and comprehensive sex education.

    So, Republicans are generally in favor of the least effective way to reduce abortions (banning them) and against the most effective ways to reduce abortions (strong social safety nets and comprehensive sex education). Democrats are generally against the least effective way of reducing abortions (banning them) and in favor of the most effective ways to reduce abortions (strong social safety nets and comprehensive sex education). So tell me again why those who are most concerned about abortion consistently vote for the party whose policies are least effective in preventing them? It makes no sense to me.