Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Obama Response on SCOTUS Ruling Totally Out to Lunch

Update: BIG MISTAKE on my part: the law actually allows exceptions for the life of the mother. It does not allow exceptions for the HEALTH of the mother. And that is what is most at issue. Nevertheless, I still believe that "choice" is the wrong framing here: it's about the mother's health--not about her "choice" to terminate an advanced pregnancy.

Senator Obama is to be commended for standing tough in his public response to today's appalling 5-4 Supreme Court ruling declaring the constitutionality of the vicious 2003 Partial Birth Abortion Act.  It is good to see our leaders standing tall and refusing to back down on the basic rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness contained in our Constitution.

But not so commendable is the utterly tone-deaf nature of the response in question.  If the intent is to reverse policy positions and save the lives of mothers facing life-threatening pregnancies, responses like Senator Obama's will fail miserably in achieving our objectives.

The key section of Obama's response is that excerpted by faithfull:

I strongly disagree with today's Supreme Court ruling, which dramatically departs from previous precedents safeguarding the health of pregnant women. As Justice Ginsburg emphasized in her dissenting opinion, this ruling signals an alarming willingness on the part of the conservative majority to disregard its prior rulings respecting a woman's medical concerns and the very personal decisions between a doctor and patient.  I am extremely concerned that this ruling will embolden state legislatures to enact further measures to restrict a woman's right to choose, and that the conservative Supreme Court justices will look for other opportunities to erode Roe v. Wade, which is established federal law and a matter of equal rights for women.

While the libertarian framing of abortion in terms of "personal decisions between a doctor and patient" and "right to choose" has served us well in the more general debate about abortion, this kind of talk in relation to partial-birth abortion/dilation & extraction/late-term abortion is death to our efforts in this arena.  While the vast majority of framing surrounding our side of the abortion debate has long centered around choice, the issue of partial-birth abortion is NOT about choice.  It is, rather, an issue of life or death.  In fact, talking about this issue in terms of choice may be satisfying for many who have been in the trenches on the abortion issue for decades, but it is quite possibly the WORST thing we could possibly do when it comes to late-term abortion/D&E.

The fact is that the American public ALREADY DOES see late-term abortion as an issue of "choice"--and they're repulsed by it.  Americans don't want women to treat an abortion during the fifth or sixth month of a pregnancy as a simple "choice."  Allow me to illustrate this by point to an ABC NEWS poll from 2003:

Still, Americans long have been uneasy with the procedure [abortion] and the reasons it's done - and these doubts remain. Eight in 10 or more say an abortion should be legal to save the woman's life, to preserve her health, or when the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest. A much smaller majority, 54 percent, supports legal abortion if there's evidence the baby will be physically impaired.

However, 57 percent oppose abortion solely to end an unwanted pregnancy - "if the mother is unmarried and does not want the baby." And opposition soars to about seven in 10 or more for so-called "partial-birth abortions" or abortions conducted in the sixth month of pregnancy or later.

Emphasis added

Now think about this logically for a minute: over 80% of Americans think abortion should be legal if the mother's health is at stake, but over 70% think that late-term abortions should be illegal.

Think about that.  What that means in no uncertain terms is that most Americans think that late-term abortions are being flippantly requested by women whose lives are not at risk.  If the American public believed that so-called "partial birth abortions" were taking place to save the lives of mothers rather than being the product of "choice", there would not be such overwhelming support for the bans.

And what is the truth?  The truth is that most of these procedures are, in fact, being done for medical reasons.  As the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada states:

A very small number of abortions occur after 20 weeks of gestation primarily because the fetus is gravely or fatally impaired, or the woman's life or physical health is at risk, or both (Statistics Canada, Therapeutic Abortions, 1995).  Many impairments or health risks are not detectable until after the 24th week of gestation. In 1998 an American Doctor, George Tiller, opposed efforts to ban late term abortions in Kansas, using "statistics and photos of catastrophic pregnancies he had aborted." The images showed fetuses with missing skulls or spinal cords, and in one case twins fused into a single body (Dave Ranney, "Tiller: Abortion Bill an Insult to Women," Wichita Eagle, April 11, 1998, and Colleen McCain and Dave Ranney, "Five Kansas Families share Deeply Personal Stories," Wichita Eagle, April 19, 1998).

Those opposed to abortion rights have portrayed women as having late term abortions out of "selfish convenience" or because they "suddenly can't get into a bathing suit." This misrepresentation of women's decision making with regard to abortion is always inaccurate, but especially so in cases of late term abortion.  Most women who terminate their pregnancies after 20 weeks wanted to have a child, and were forced to consider abortion for medical reasons. Other women may be in desperate social circumstances, such as an abusive relationship, or they may be very young teenagers who have delayed abortion care because they were in denial about the pregnancy.

Again, this issue is not about choice.  Indeed, it MUST NOT be about choice.  This issue is about life and death--and we are on the "pro-life" side.  We intend to save the lives of these mothers from those who would kill them so that non-viable fetuses with little or no chance of survival outside the womb can gestate within them as silent killers like something out of the movie "Alien."


To me, the answer is simple: since 80% of the American public supports saving the lives of mothers, let us use our Democratic majorities in Congress to send legislation to the president's desk demanding that women be allowed to take the medical steps necessary to save themselves in the case of a life-threatening pregnancy.  Force the villains in the GOP and the White House to oppose legislation saving the lives of mothers.  And if, God forbid, this new federal legislation (and btw, weren't the anti-choice Republicans always all about preserving states' rights?) results in the unnecessary death of a young mother-to-be, let us use the tragedy of that murder-by-legislation to put these SOBs on the defensive and do our duty to defend the Constitutional guarantees of Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness.

We must take a courageous stand on this issue.  But if we value the lives of our nation's women, we MUST stop talking about it as an issue of choice.  It is not, and must not be.  It's a matter of life and death.

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