Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Michael Gerson on Obama's Abortion Stance

Wash. Post: Obama's Abortion Extremism, by Michael Gerson:

Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr.'s endorsement of Barack Obama last week -- "I believe in this guy like I've never believed in a candidate in my life" -- recalled another dramatic moment in Democratic politics. In the summer of 1992, as Bill Clinton solidified his control over the Democratic Party, Robert P. Casey Sr., the senator's father, was banned from speaking to the Democratic convention for the heresy of being pro-life.

...Obama's record on abortion is extreme. He opposed the ban on partial-birth abortion -- a practice a fellow Democrat, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, once called "too close to infanticide." Obama strongly criticized the Supreme Court decision upholding the partial-birth ban. In the Illinois state Senate, he opposed a bill similar to the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which prevents the killing of infants mistakenly left alive by abortion. And now Obama has oddly claimed that he would not want his daughters to be "punished with a baby" because of a crisis pregnancy -- hardly a welcoming attitude toward new life.

This piece is somewhat confusing in describing Obama and the federal abortion ban.  Barack Obama did not vote on the federal ban.  The Act was signed into law in November of 2003, and Obama was elected to the Senate the following year.  (Obama voted "present" on -- the practical equivalent of voting against -- Illinois's so-called "partial-birth abortion ban," but that's another story.)  Obama spoke out against the federal ban when the Supreme Court upheld it last year. 

Gerson is wrong to call opposition to the federal abortion ban extreme.  What's extreme is the ban itself.  Its passage marked the first time Congress ever interfered with how doctors perform abortions, imposing criminal sanctions and preventing doctors from treating their patients in the way they believe is safest.  Senator Moynihan, otherwise pro-choice, fell prey to the misleading and highly sophisticated public relations campaign supporting the so-called "partial-birth abortion" bans.  (More on the history of and rhetoric behind the bans here).

Gerson suggests that Obama should support efforts to reduce the number of abortions.  Obama has already demonstrated his support for measures to curb unintended pregnancies.  For example, he is an original co-sponsor of the Prevention First Act, which aims to increase access to contraception and comprehensive sex education (education that, unlike the discredited abstinence-only approach Gerson advocates, teaches both about abstinence and safer sex).

Finally, Gerson's piece is full of the ethical inconsistencies common among those who oppose abortion: sometimes they want to treat the fetus as a complete, rights-holding person, and sometimes they don't.  Gerson neatly demonstrates this when he first accuses Obama of not holding a "welcoming attitude toward new life," and in the next breath points out that "[f]ew Americans oppose abortion under every circumstance, but a majority oppose most of the abortions that actually take place -- generally supporting the procedure only in the case of rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother."  As I have pointed out many times on this blog, either the fetus is a "child," or it isn't.  A true "child" does not lose her status as a person because she is the product of rape or incest.

2008 Presidential Campaign, Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, Politics | Permalink

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