Abortion: Obama Needs to Ride the Tiger

In the Illinois state senate in 2003, Barack Obama voted against a bill called the Induced Infant Liability Act — which anti-choice people have apparently relabeled The Born Alive Infant Protection Act. Although Obama is portrayed by anti-choice, government-coercion people as approving of killing babies after they are born, he defends his vote on two grounds: 1) the bill had technical language which might have “interfered with a woman’s right to choose;” and 2) Illinois law already required medical care in such situations.

Obama’s next legislative action was his vote against the Partial Birth Abortion Ban. In defense of that vote, Senator Obama said that a state can properly restrict late-term abortions but they must have a provision to protect the health of the mother.

Senator Obama also voted against a bill to make it a crime for anyone other than a mother to accompany a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion.

When Senator Obama became President Obama, one of his first actions was to strike down by executive order the policy that said any organization that receives family-planning funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development cannot offer abortions nor abortion counseling. Obama said his administration would “initiate a fresh conversation on family planning… .” There is yet no such conversation.

In 2009, President Obama spoke at Notre Dame University and promised those with anti-choice convictions would be honored by his administration — he advocated adoption of a “sensible conscience clause.”

The Obama administration had another brush with the Catholic position on abortion when the Justice Department defended a grant to the Conference of Catholic Bishops program helping victims of human trafficking. The ACLU of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against the grant because Catholic programs don’t refer for abortions. Subsequently, in October 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ended the funding. Critics of the action accused HHS of linking global health grants and “reproductive health” services.

Historically, abortion had been legal in the United States until 1821, when Connecticut became the first state to make abortion after “quickening” — at about four months — a crime. By the middle of the twentieth century — with limited exceptions — abortion had become illegal in most states.

One of the great ironies of history is that it was primarily the Republicans who established the very federal family-planning services that are such a thorn in the side to the current Republican establishment.

President Barack Obama has been very quiet about abortion since his speech at Notre Dame. He had an excellent opportunity to weigh in on the issue when a Mississippi amendment that would have defined a fertilized egg as a person came up for a referendum vote. Approval of the referendum would probably have outlawed in-vitro fertilization; criminalized birth control; caused doctors to decline to provide pregnant cancer patients with chemotherapy due to fear of legal prosecution; and probably led to murder charges against doctors who perform constitutionally-protected abortions. Even expectant mothers who use drugs or drink alcohol to excess could be charged with murder.

Much as President Obama would have remained silent on the Ohio referendum designed to support the stripping of collective bargaining rights from public employees, until pushed, almost at the last minute, by radio talk show host Bill Press to support a “no” vote and thus help save bargaining rights, President Obama was silent on the Mississippi referendum. When a state wants to revert back to medieval times, the issue becomes too important for the president to remain silent. As it turned out, the referendum, widely expected to pass, was defeated by a vote of 59 to 41 percent.

What Should Obama Do or Have Done

Several years ago I read a very exciting article on abortion, which I thought I saved but can’t now find. The article was built around the increasing number of young females — many of them pro-choice — entering medical school. They were lobbying their schools to teach abortion procedures; also, these activist students were pushing hard for a greater availability of abortion clinics.

Many pro-choice lawmakers complete their statement of support for a woman’s right to choose by saying abortion “should be rare.” Besides the standard argument that unwanted children are more likely to be neglected or even abused, there is the fact of the large resource-use footprint of the average American. When syndicated columnist Cal Thomas wrote an article reprinted in the Albuquerque Journal, I wrote a letter to the Journal editor critiquing Thomas’s contention that Roe v. Wade had prevented 50 million Americans from being born and these additional births would have enriched the nation. The core argument in my letter was that increasing the U.S. population by about one-sixth would have greatly increased our oil consumption and placed additional stress on clean water resources — especially in the American West. Overall, U.S. citizens would have consumed and be consuming more of the world’s finite resources. A smaller U.S. population is good for the world.

In his book, Beyond Choice, Alexander Sanger, grandson of the family-planning advocate, Margaret Sanger, makes the provocative core argument that reproduction health and safety is enhanced by spacing pregnancies: too little space between pregnancies and teenagers having babies increases the health risk to both mother and infant. Of all those who might want to make the decision as to whether or not to bring a baby to term, the expectant mother is in the best position to make that decision.

President Barack Obama should be promoting the views of those pro-choice female medical student activists.

An Afterword: Rick Pearlstein, a historian who has written on the history of the labor union movement, believes that President Obama is afraid of being burned by association with movements suddenly springing up. Thus, he largely absented himself from the movements to restore collective bargaining rights to public union employees in Wisconsin and Ohio — including the burgeoning movement to recall the anti-union Governor Scott Walker — and Obama was silent on the Mississippi referendum.  Pearlstein says a transformative president must be prepared to ride the tiger and Obama seems to have an anti-tiger phobia.

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