Barack Obama waxed not-so-poetic about late term abortion, the federal abortion ban and the validity of mental health exceptions in said ban to the Christian magazine Relevant last week, telling the interviewer that states should have the right to restrict or ban late term abortions. And Obama made no bones about the fact that, as he sees it, "mental distress" should not qualify as a threat to "the health of the mother". He was referring to the health exceptions the Supreme Court has deemed unnecessary in order to ensure the constitutionality of the (medically-ambiguous-at-best term) "partial birth abortion" ban ignoring the health exceptions explicitly required in Roe v. Wade and its "companion" ruling, Doe v. Bolton.
Last year, in a questionnaire on reproductive health issues sent out to all of the presidential candidates at that time, Barack Obama's campaign had this to say to RH Reality Check:
RH Reality Check: Does Sen. Obama support any restrictions on abortion, or does he believe it should be entirely up to women?
Obama supports those restrictions that are consistent with the legal framework outlined by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade.
Roe v. Wade allows the law to consider a woman's mental health as well as her physical health when making decisions about late term abortion. Presumably, therefore, Obama should support the mental health exception as presented in Roe v. Wade. But that's not what his recent comments suggested to many reporters, journalists and media outlets.
The mainstream, progressive and conservative news media all went ballistic. The Baltimore Sun asked if Obama was for "weakening Roe v. Wade?" The Bay Area Indymedia shouted, "Anti-Abortion Obama -- He Gets Worse by the Minute" while over at The National Review online, Ramesh Ponnuru's sarcastically titled post, "Obama on Abortion (For Now)" takes the Senator to task for still not being anti-choice enough (what? Obama thinks there should be any exceptions for the woman's health when it comes to late term abortion?!).
Offering pro-choice legislators some credit, campaign spokeswoman Shannon Gilson clarified yesterday,
"Senator Obama [...] recognizes that some people view these health exceptions not as exceptions, but as a way around these restrictions. Senator Obama believes that while 'mental distress' should not be covered by a health exception, there will be cases where carrying to term a pregnancy may seriously damage a woman's mental health and those cases should be covered. He believes that we can craft well-defined health exceptions -- as pro-choice legislators have tried in Congress and in state legislatures -- that address those concerns and fully protect women's health."
What is the truth about Obama's position on this issue?
Did Obama's statements reveal his real stance on abortion access and rights for women? Or was it a political misstep, kow-towing to the religious media and telling the young, twenty-something readers of the Christian magazine what they wanted to hear? Maybe Barack Obama just hasn't thought this through to the degree that he needs to.
Remember McCain's embarrassing spate of ignorance last year when grilled by a reporter about contraception/condoms and HIV transmission? He was, in his own words, "stumped" and told the reporter he didn't know his position because he wasn't "informed enough about it."
But what should we make of Obama's statements last year in response to the Supreme Court decision allowing the federal abortion ban to remain?
"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."
Less than one year ago, Obama was standing firmly against any state restrictions on late term abortion. Less than one year ago, Obama did not differentiate between respecting a woman's physical medical concerns and her mental and emotional concerns. There was no mention then that the very personal decisions between a doctor and a patient should stand only if politicians deem them correct decisions.
Where is the truth now?
The "truth" that I'm looking for from Barack Obama, from John McCain, from all of our politicians -- is not the one truth about these issues but their own truths.
Does Barack Obama now honestly believe that a small percentage of the already tiny percentage of women who undergo late term abortions, those who, under the advice of a skilled physician, decide that a D&X is the safest procedure, if a heart-wrenching one, for them, are somehow not broken enough to receive one?
More to the point: does Barack Obama's truth point him towards erring on the side of giving women less control over their own health and bodies, while giving government more?
Does Barack Obama's truth allow him to accept the politically-created, medically meaningless term "partial birth abortion" as he speaks to the upholding or creation of laws based on the term?
I hope not.
I want Obama to understand what an utterly pointless distraction this entire issue is. I want him to realize how sweetly and utterly he has played into the hands of those who want only to entrap him in political sport where the only winners are the leaders of the anti-choice organizations who originally created the term "partial birth abortion;" the leaders who insist on pushing presidential candidates into a mindless corner in which they must endlessly discuss medical procedures that should be the domain of physicians and their patients.
Many have already argued and will argue brilliantly, from places both personal and professional, the importance of mental health exceptions in any abortion ban, patiently describing to Senator Obama why his declaration is wrong, that only "serious mental health complications" (and not, as he puts it "just feeling blue") should be legally accepted as the golden key to the medical exception passageway on the way to a late term abortion.
I choose only to ask Barack Obama to resist the urge to play the game that will get him nowhere. Last year Barack Obama told an interviewer that he supported the choice position because he "trusts women to make a prayerful decision."
I'm going to ask Barack Obama to do the same.
Originally published on RH Reality Check