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Hullabaloo


Sunday, July 06, 2008

 
Distress

by digby

There's a lot of talk this week-end about Obama's comments on late term abortion to a Christian magazine in which he said that the didn't think "mental distress" was an acceptable exception to the prohibition against them. I don't have lot of time to delve into this in depth today, but others are making the arguments quite well.

For the legal argument, click here. (It's a bad headline, but a good article.) The fact is that the pro-choice position on this is well founded in the law. The health of the mother has always been the exception to the prohibitions allowed under Roe vs Wade and that includes mental health. I don't know who Obama thinks is going to decide that a girl or woman isn't "mentally distressed" enough not to give birth against her will, but I can't see that it can logically be anyone other than the woman herself and the people in her life who know the state of her health. Perhaps we can have a bunch of congressmen, senators and judges taking turns making that decision on a case by case basis? It worked for Bill Frist in the Schiavo case.

The medical argument is made quite passionately, here. Just read it. These are real people with real problems, not just spoiled girls who deserve to be punished with forced pregnancy.

I'm not surprised about this. There has been a movement afoot in Democratic circles to jettison a woman's right to choose for some time and Obama has always shown some squishiness on it, going back to before he was a candidate:

It was January 17, 2001, and Illinois state senator Barack Obama was on WTTW11’s “Chicago Tonight."

Discussing his opposition to Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft, Obama praised newly-elected President Bush's new nominee for Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

“The proof in the pudding is looking at the treatment of the other Bush nominees," Obama said. "I mean for the most part, I for example do not agree with a missile defense system, but I dont think that soon-to-be-Secretary Rumsfeld is in any way out of the mainstream of American political life. And I would argue that the same would be true for the vast majority of the Bush nominees, and I give him credit for that.

"So I don’t want to be pegged as being far left simply because I find certain aspects in John Ashcroft’s record to be divisive or offensive," Obama continued. "I think it’s legitimate for me to raise that. As I said before, if he brought before us a nominee who didn’t agree with me on affirmative action and yet said that, you know, I do think that and showed a history for showing regard and concern for racial justice, if he came before us and said I oppose a woman’s right to choose, or I oppose abortion, I find it religiously offensive, and yet I do respect, for example, the notion that we shouldn’t be solving these things with violence, historically, if that had been what was said, then I don’t think I would object. And I think that’s a fair position to take.”


It appears that he was saying that having an Attorney General who opposed abortion rights would be fine as long as he doesn't believe in bombing abortion clinics. (I'm not sure that Ashcroft backed bombing abortion clinics, but perhaps Obama had other reasons for opposing him. God knows, there were plenty of them.) But I don't agree that it's a fair position to take. Confirming an Attorney General who is adamantly opposed to abortion rights simply because he agrees that the issue shouldn't be solved with violence seems like a pretty low bar to me. Roe is settled law. Would you confirm an Attorney General who believed that segregation was fine but who promised to fairly administer the laws against it?

It should always be remembered that abortion only became the cause de jour on the right once legal segregation lost its organizing clout. It's all part of the same mosaic of civil rights, which has animated certain people on the right side of the spectrum from the beginning. And it's served them very, very well. The abortion debate, after all, was conceived for political purposes:

In the 1980s, in order to solidify their shift from divorce to abortion, the Religious Right constructed an abortion myth, one accepted by most Americans as true. Simply put, the abortion myth is this: Leaders of the Religious Right would have us believe that their movement began in direct response to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Politically conservative evangelical leaders were so morally outraged by the ruling that they instantly shed their apolitical stupor in order to mobilize politically in defense of the sanctity of life. Most of these leaders did so reluctantly and at great personal sacrifice, risking the obloquy of their congregants and the contempt of liberals and "secular humanists," who were trying their best to ruin America. But these selfless, courageous leaders of the Religious Right, inspired by the opponents of slavery in the nineteenth century, trudged dutifully into battle in order to defend those innocent unborn children, newly endangered by the Supreme Court's misguided Roe decision.

It's a compelling story, no question about it. Except for one thing: It isn't true.

Although various Roman Catholic groups denounced the ruling, and Christianity Today complained that the Roe decision "runs counter to the moral teachings of Christianity through the ages but also to the moral sense of the American people," the vast majority of evangelical leaders said virtually nothing about it; many of those who did comment actually applauded the decision. W. Barry Garrett of Baptist Press wrote, "Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision." Indeed, even before the Roe decision, the messengers (delegates) to the 1971 Southern Baptist Convention gathering in St. Louis, Missouri, adopted a resolution that stated, "we call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother." W.A. Criswell, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, expressed his satisfaction with the Roe v. Wade ruling. "I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person," the redoubtable fundamentalist declared, "and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed."

The Religious Right's self-portrayal as mobilizing in response to the Roe decision was so pervasive among evangelicals that few questioned it. But my attendance at an unusual gathering in Washington, D.C., finally alerted me to the abortion myth.

In November 1990, for reasons that I still don't entirely understand, I was invited to attend a conference in Washington sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Religious Right organization (though I didn't realize it at the time). I soon found myself in a conference room with a couple of dozen people, including Ralph Reed, then head of the Christian Coalition; Carl F. H. Henry, an evangelical theologian; Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family; Donald Wildmon, head of the American Family Association; Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Edward G. Dobson, pastor of an evangelical church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and formerly one of Jerry Falwell's acolytes at Moral Majority. Paul M. Weyrich, a longtime conservative activist, head of what is now called the Free Congress Foundation, and one of the architects of the Religious Right in the late 1970s, was also there.

In the course of one of the sessions, Weyrich tried to make a point to his Religious Right brethren (no women attended the conference, as I recall). Let's remember, he said animatedly, that the Religious Right did not come together in response to the Roe decision. No, Weyrich insisted, what got us going as a political movement was the attempt on the part of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policies.

Racial discrimination flowed directly into the anti-abortion movement. It's all part of the same thing. Luckily, there still remains enough common sense and pragmatic relationships to real life problems among the actual citizens that the country has not moved far enough to criminalize abortion again. But it probably will. You can already see popular culture moving in that direction. And frankly, illegal abortion won't be quite as prevalent it was before Roe vs Wade because society has changed and single motherhood and unwed pregnancy aren't stigmatized as they once were.

But other things, like those cases cited in the link above, of women who can't afford any more kids but can't imagine giving up one of her children's brothers and sisters to adoption, or young girls with serious problems who lived in denial for too long --- or a married woman who had an ill advised affair while her husband was away in Iraq. Sex, failed birth control, bad judgment, rape, all these things will always be a part of human experience. As will the fact that insisting women give birth against their will and make an unwanted lifelong commitment (adoption or not) because a cluster of cells in a petrie dish or an incomplete human that lives inside her body has the same rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that she does, is to say that women actually have fewer claims to those ideals.

I have no doubt that Obama supports Roe vs Wade but I never had any great expectation that he would be a champion for reproductive rights. There are very few politicians around who are, even of the so-called liberal variety. They'd all be vastly relieved if the issue would just go away. The fallacy, of course, is thinking that it wouldn't immediately be supplanted by another wedge issue for the right to beat the left over the head with. It's how they organize themselves.
So why not just hold the line on this one?


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