The Abortion Question

Print More

Answering Rick Warren’s question on abortion at Saddleback last August, Barack Obama got off on the wrong foot by quipping that it was above his pay grade to determine at what point a baby gets human rights. Last night, he got another bite at that apple and there was nothing about pay grades. Most of what he had to say tracked what he said at Saddleback in policy terms. But he also managed to convey some moral conviction about the desirability of reducing the number of abortion. As in:

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.

According to Amy Sullivan, who monitored Stan Greenberg’s focus group of undecided Ohio voters, this spiked the dials.
In his response, John McCain dismissed Obama’s recourse to a “health of the mother” exception as just another case of his opponent’s “eloquence” (which, in his lexicon, seems to mean rhetorical flimflam):

Just again, the example of the eloquence of Sen. Obama. He’s health for the mother. You know, that’s been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything.
That’s the extreme pro-abortion position, quote, “health.” But, look, Cindy and I are adoptive parents. We know what a treasure and joy it is to have an adopted child in our lives. We’ll do everything we can to improve adoption in this country.
But that does not mean that we will cease to protect the rights of the unborn. Of course, we have to come together. Of course, we have to work together, and, of course, it’s vital that we do so and help these young women who are facing such a difficult decision, with a compassion, that we’ll help them with the adoptive services, with the courage to bring that child into this world and we’ll help take care of it.

It seems odd that, in a country where strong majorities support “health of the mother” as a reason for permitting abortions, a candidate would go out of his way to dismiss it. But it’s as if McCain thinks he’s still running for the Republican nomination. All those “of courses” amount to a dismissal of Obama’s position–as if to say, it’s more flimflam. What about those pro-choice Soccer Moms who voted, as Security Moms, for George Bush in 2004–and who, presumably, are Worried About Hard Times Moms today? Shouldn’t a pro-life candidate say: “Look, I’m pro-life. I believe life begins at conception. But I also recognize that most Americans are still not where I am, and so, as president, I will embrace those common-ground policies. Because if Roe v. Wade is overturned, as it may well be under the present Supreme Court, we know that whether your state maintains abortion rights or does away with them, we’re going to need services that prevent unwanted pregnancies and, where they cannot be prevented, help women deal with them as best they can.”

  • Rob Winslow

    As a firmly pro-choice person in a heavily evangelical and Roman Catholic area, and as a volunteer at the local Planned Parenthood, I am keenly aware of the societal division on abortion, as well as over age-appropriate sex education. But I also maintain an arm’s length acquaintance/friendship with the leading anti-choice activist in this area. He and I meet at demonstrations and converse cordially, if with strong differences. We’ve also taken to sharing views by email since he’s in another state for part of the year. Neither of us changes the mind of the other; but, and this is significant, as forceful as he is, he salutes my sincerity and good will. I don’t know that this discourse between us will lead to anything, but having the lines of communication open seems to be worthwhile. The local Planned Parenthood does not do abortions; so I don’t know how the relationship I’ve just written about will fare if that policy should change in the future.

  • Dan

    Common ground and abortion reduction poll well as messages and work well as policy. Addressing abortion within this frame is a mark of seriousness about results. Dismissing the health of the mother is just the opposite.