FQILtA, Part 1: Obama on abortion

I didn’t watch Rick Warren’s Saddleback Presidential Forum — if I had two hours to spare, I’d spend them doing something a lot more enjoyable than watching the last nails get hammered into the “No Non-Christians Need Apply” sign on the White House. I did read the transcript, though, and without further ado, here are some Follow-up Questions I’d Like to Ask Barack Obama:

WARREN: At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.

ME: Let me reassure you, Senator, that nobody’s expecting the definitive answer to this question from a political candidate. What is your personal view on the question of when a human being begins to have human rights? What philosophical and legal principles shaped that view?

OBAMA: And so I think anybody who tries to deny the moral difficulties and gravity of the abortion issue, I think, is not paying attention. So that would be point number one.

ME: Some abortion advocates are celebrating the removal of the language stating that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare” from the Democratic platform. They believe that it denigrates women to say that abortion should be rare, and consider the new platform a victory for their view that giving birth to a child and aborting her are equally moral choices. Do you agree with their interpretation?

OBAMA: And so, for me, the goal right now should be — and this is where I think we can find common ground. And by the way, I’ve now inserted this into the Democratic party platform, is how do we reduce the number of abortions? The fact is that although we have had a president who is opposed to abortion over the last eight years, abortions have not gone down and that is something we have to address.

ME: What are your goals for abortion reduction? You may use whatever metric you like. What outcome would constitute success for your policies, and what would constitute failure?

4 thoughts on “FQILtA, Part 1: Obama on abortion

  1. Bill Samuel

    Obama is toeing a line. He is not interested in really engaging the issue. He wants to sound empathetic towards the other side, but there really isn’t substance there. If you look at the NOW platform for this year, it is much better on the right to give birth. It has a sentence somewhat similar to the one Campolo and Wallis argue is a concession to pro-lifers, but goes on to add additional points:

    “NOW supports the right of women to have children, including appropriate pre-natal care and quality child care. We oppose government efforts to limit or discourage childbearing, such as family caps and involuntary sterilization.”

    This was NOW’s position before the new language was added to the Democratic platform, so to ascribe the milder language in the platform as an attempt to moderate between pro-choice and pro-life forces doesn’t hold water.

    Obama’s “above my pay grade” quip demonstrates his refusal to actually engage pro-life arguments. I don’t think he realizes how condescending and contemptuous he seems to pro-lifers.

  2. Marysia

    Bill,
    from the start NOW has had an inclusive platform like this, even if often abortion has been overemphasized.

    Obama doesn’t sound condescending and contemptuous to my ears, at least. A lot of prochoicers really do feel not personally qualified to answer the question “When does life begin?” That’s why they feel they should not “impose” their views on the matter on other people, especially pregnant women in horrible difficulties.

    Prolifers often misread this as an evasive and in the case of politicians particularly, a cynical tactic, but for many prochoicers, including Obama in all likelihood, this is their heartfelt stance and we need to recognize and respect the valid ethical impulse behind it.

    Not wanting to order other people around, especially their sexual and reproductive lives is a basically good impulse…it’s just that the legal and ethical paradigms of imposing and submitting to authority are not very good ones for dealing with abortion, which is a matter of taking life, often out of desperate circumstances.

    It really, really frosts me when prochoicers assume “those antichoicers don’t care about anyone after they’re born.” because that is such a blatant and paranoid misreading of the aspirations that many prolfiers, including moi and all present company, i trust, struggle to live by.

    well, i think this is one of those points on which prolifers similarly misread prochoicers, with the same unfortunate consequences of misunderstanding and alienation….

    and the more prolifers and prochoicers misunderstand and alienate one another, the less both “sides” can join together and cooperate on shared reproductive justice concerns.

    that is, the less we will be able to alleviate the root causes of abortion—which in the end matters more to the fates of women and children, unborn and born, than whether and to what extent abortion is legal/illegal.

  3. Jen R

    This was NOW’s position before the new language was added to the Democratic platform, so to ascribe the milder language in the platform as an attempt to moderate between pro-choice and pro-life forces doesn’t hold water.

    Granted that NOW and others have held this position for a while, but it wasn’t enough of a priority to put it in the platform until now. There has been language about health care and poverty alleviation in the platform, obviously, but never related specifically to abortion or to the right to support in childbearing.

    I don’t want to overstate the case here — the platform’s embrace of the violence of abortion is awful. But the platform is better for the work of pro-life Democrats than it otherwise would have been. It has more support for women and more emphasis on nonviolent alternatives to abortion.

    Obama comes across to me as someone who is fair-minded enough to respect that people of good will differ with his abortion stance, but who nonetheless hasn’t thought hard enough about the arguments against abortion to *really* get why they differ. I think that’s why his statement about the “moral difficulties and gravity” of abortion is so muddy. I don’t know that he could sit down and relate the most compelling pro-life arguments, in the language that a pro-lifer would use. Actually, that’s another question I’d like to ask him.

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