Obama and Abortion
Steven Waldman reports that many pro-choice voices are not happy:
An important split is emerging within the Democratic Party over abortion. Barack Obama’s reaction to it will tell us a great deal about how he intends to unify people of different views and manage key voting blocs.
A group of progressive evangelicals, including the Rev. Jim Wallis, has urged Sen. Obama to embrace an “abortion reduction agenda” that focuses on improving economic support for women so they won’t feel financially pressured into having abortions. The Rev. Tony Campolo, a member of the Democratic Party platform committee, announced that he’s going to mobilize an effort get an abortion reduction plank into the party platform.
Pro-choice activists have reacted angrily. Kate Michelman, the former head of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Frances Kissling, the former president of Catholics for a Free Choice, declared on Salon.com that Mr. Wallis and company were implying that “given the choice, having a baby is a more moral choice.” Their approach will therefore “be understood for what it is: condescending and sexist.”
To which I respond: since when did the pro-choice position on abortion foreclose the view that abortions are a tragic and unfortunate choice? Since when did being pro-choice mean you have to be pro-abortion? Given that abortion and poverty are highly correlated, what is it about the abortion reduction plank that Michalman opposes? Adoption subsidies? Better access to health care? How is it sexist to want to provide financial support to women facing a difficult moral choice? Heck, isn't the entire "choice" message adopted by abortion rights advocates for the very reason that they don't want to be viewed as pro-abortion?
In my view, it is simply wrong--both morally and politically--to assert the view that the decision to abort a child is a morally neutral choice.
Waldman then proceeds to discuss the political choice facing Obama:
Sen. Obama’s moves on abortion have seemed clumsy. He made news by saying he supported a ban on “partial birth” abortions except if the mother’s life or health was seriously threatened – only to back off and add “mental health” to the list of exemptions.
Sen. Obama’s approach has been to combine pro-choice policies with conspicuous respectfulness of pro-life people. While he supports the Freedom of Choice Act, which would potentially roll back state restrictions on abortion, his Web site declares that he “respects those who disagree with him.” In his book “The Audacity of Hope,” he recounted how a pro-life protester had once offered to pray for him: “I said a prayer of my own – that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that had been extended to me.”
His most evangelical-friendly formulation came in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. “Abortion is a deeply moral issue and those who deny there’s a moral component to it are wrong,” he said, adding that he trusted women to make “a prayerful decision” and said sex education needed to impart the “sacredness of sexuality.”
You might think: how can this furrowed-brow strategy possibly work? Pro-life people surely won’t be lured by empathetic words if his policies go the other way. Some won’t but some will. For some centrist Catholics and moderate evangelicals, disgust with the Democratic Party was less about policy than perceived contemptuousness of pro-life people.
Read it all here.
The politics are difficult, but I think the abortion reduction plank reflects the consensus views of most Americans--they are troubled by abortion as a moral issue, but still support leaving the decision to women. By embracing the legal right to abortion, while still offering concrete efforts to reduce abortion, Obama would have a political home run. And even more importantly, he will have done far more to reduce abortions than any pro-Life President.