Sen. Barack Obama’s RH Issues Questionnaire

Andrea Lynch

Sen. Barack Obama's campaign staff responds to Rewire's questions on reproductive health -- sharing his position on the Hyde Amendment, crisis pregnancy centers, the global gag rule, and much, much more!

In October, Rewire developed a questionnaire for the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, designed to help our readers distinguish between the various contenders' positions on sexual and reproductive health and rights — beyond the sole issue of abortion. Our questions were designed to get under the surface of the candidates' rhetoric on reproductive rights and clarify how far each one was willing to go to support concrete policy changes to back up his or her stated beliefs. Sen. Barack Obama's campaign staff answers Andrea Lynch's questions below.

Why do you consider Sen. Obama to be the strongest candidate on reproductive health and rights?

Throughout his career, Senator Obama has consistently championed a woman's right to choose, earning him 100% ratings from pro-choice groups during his tenure in the Illinois State Senate and the United States Senate. In 2005, he was the honorary chair of Planned Parenthood of Chicago Area's Roe v. Wade celebration. And he has not shied away from tough battles. In the Illinois State Senate, Obama worked hand-in-hand with advocacy groups to protect women's reproductive health.

And just last year, Obama was the only U.S. Senator who supported a fundraising initiative to defeat a proposed abortion ban in South Dakota. And Senator Obama was the only presidential candidate to weigh in on the controversy surrounding the opening of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Aurora.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

What sets Sen. Obama's platform apart from the other contenders on issues of reproductive health and rights?

Senator Obama has demonstrated an ability to engage diverse audiences in talking about these issues in an effort to forge consensus. For instance, in December 2006, Obama went to "the political equivalent of the lion's den" when he told a conservative Christian audience in Southern California that abstinence-only education was not enough and that he "respectfully but unequivocally" disagrees with those who oppose condom distribution to fight the AIDS pandemic." Obama drew a standing ovation from the 2,072 pastors and others who came from 39 states and 18 nations.

Similarly, this year at a Planned Parenthood conference, Obama emphasized the need for pro-choice groups to align themselves with religious and community groups that are also working on reducing unintended pregnancy. Obama has also focused on the high teen pregnancy rate. In addition to co-sponsoring the Prevention First Act, Obama has introduced a bill that would devote resources to combating the high teen pregnancy rate in communities of color.

How does Sen. Obama's healthcare plan specifically address sexual and reproductive health, family planning, pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and other STDs?

Senator Obama believes that reproductive health care is basic health care. His health care plan will create a new public plan, which will provide coverage of all essential medical services. Reproductive health care is an essential service – just like mental health care and disease management and other preventive services under his plan.

And private insurers that want to participate will have to treat reproductive care in the same way.

Does Sen. Obama support comprehensive sexuality education? Does he believe that the federal government should continue to fund abstinence-only-until marriage programs, despite evidence that they are ineffective at preventing unintended pregnancy and STDs?

Yes, Senator Obama supports comprehensive sex education. He believes that we should not continue to fund abstinence-only programs. Over the last decade, the federal government has spent $1.5 billion in taxpayer dollars on "abstinence-only" programs that have not been successful. While abstinence is one approach to reducing unintended pregnancies and STDs, Obama believes we should also support comprehensive and age-appropriate sex education. Obama is an original co-sponsor of the Prevention First Act, which will ensure that all taxpayer-funded federal programs are medically accurate and include information about contraception.

Does Sen. Obama support adolescents' access to confidential family planning and reproductive health services, without having to seek permission from their parents? Why or why not?

Yes. As the father of two daughters, Senator Obama understands that parents do not want to imagine their teenage child might need to seek counsel on reproductive health. He believes, first and foremost, that parents should be the first and primary source of support. But Obama also recognizes that not every child is in a loving home with a parent or trusted adult to turn to in such a situation. For young women in such circumstances, Obama wants to be sure that there is access to a trained health care provider that can provide needed services or help them make good decisions.

Does Sen. Obama believe that contraception should be covered by private insurance plans and under insurance plans for federal employees? Why or why not?

Yes.

Does Sen. Obama agree with the FDA's decision to make emergency contraception over the counter for people 18 and over? Does he think adolescents should be able to access emergency contraception over the counter as well? Why or why not?

Senator Obama supports the FDA's decision to make emergency contraception (EC) available over the counter for people 18 and over. Obama recognizes that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other medical experts have reported that EC use is safe for women of all reproductive age and have called for improved access to EC. Although Obama strongly believes that parents or other trusted adults should be engaged in all reproductive health decisions involving teenagers and adolescents, he also recognizes that not every young women has access to such support. As such, he does believe that teenagers should be able to access EC over the counter. As noted above, he supports the right of adolescents to seek confidential family planning services.

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.

Does Sen. Obama support the Hyde amendment? Under what circumstances does he believe that Medicaid should cover abortions (all pregnancies, life- or health-threatening pregnancies, pregnancies that are a result of rape or incest, extreme fetal malformation)?

Obama does not support the Hyde amendment. He believes that the federal government should not use its dollars to intrude on a poor woman's decision whether to carry to term or to terminate her pregnancy and selectively withhold benefits because she seeks to exercise her right of reproductive choice in a manner the government disfavors.

Does Sen. Obama believe adolescents should have the right to choose abortion, or should they be required to seek their parents' consent? Why or why not? Are there any circumstances that might make a compelling case for waiving the parental consent requirement?

As a parent, Obama believes that young women, if they become pregnant, should talk to their parents before considering an abortion. But he realizes not all girls can turn to their mother or father in times of trouble, and in those instances, we should want these girls to seek the advice of trusted adults – an aunt, a grandmother, a pastor.

Unfortunately, instead of encouraging pregnant teens to seek the advice of adults, most parental consent bills that come before Congress or state legislatures criminalize adults who attempt to help a young woman in need and lack judicial bypass and other provisions that would permit exceptions in compelling cases.

Does Sen. Obama support continuing federal funding for crisis pregnancy centers? Why or why not?

No.

If elected president, what specific measures would Sen. Obama support for women who choose to become mothers (prenatal care, maternity leave, childcare, healthcare for children)?

Under Obama's health care plan, women will be able to receive coverage of prenatal care under the new public health plan. And participating private insurers will be required to provide the same coverage.

Obama has proposed a $1.5 billion fund to encourage all fifty states to adopt paid leave programs. Under these programs, women would be entitled to take paid maternity leave.

Does Sen. Obama believe that gay and lesbian couples should be able to adopt children?

Yes.

If elected president, would Sen. Obama overturn the Global Gag Rule or reinstate funding for UNFPA?

Yes, Senator Obama would overturn the global gag rule and reinstate funding for UNFPA.

Want More? We've Got It!

Check out Sen. John Edwards's and Sen. Hillary Clinton's completed questionnaire.

Read the statement from Sen. Chris Dodd's campaign.

What about the Democratic contenders who didn't respond to our questionnaire? We did their homework for them, mining through their previous public statements to find their positions, right here.

And the Republicans? Concrete information on the Republican candidates' positions and commitments on reproductive health and rights is harder to come by, since their websites generally only include information about the issue of abortion. But here's what we were able to come up with.

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

Let’s Stop Conflating Self-Care and Actual Care

Katie Klabusich

It's time for a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities.

As a chronically ill, chronically poor person, I have feelings about when, why, and how the phrase “self-care” is invoked. When International Self-Care Day came to my attention, I realized that while I laud the effort to prevent some of the 16 million people the World Health Organization reports die prematurely every year from noncommunicable diseases, the American notion of self-care—ironically—needs some work.

I propose a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities. How we think about what constitutes vital versus optional care affects whether/when we do those things we should for our health and well-being. Some of what we have come to designate as self-care—getting sufficient sleep, treating chronic illness, allowing ourselves needed sick days—shouldn’t be seen as optional; our culture should prioritize these things rather than praising us when we scrape by without them.

International Self-Care Day began in China, and it has spread over the past few years to include other countries and an effort seeking official recognition at the United Nations of July 24 (get it? 7/24: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) as an important advocacy day. The online academic journal SelfCare calls its namesake “a very broad concept” that by definition varies from person to person.

“Self-care means different things to different people: to the person with a headache it might mean a buying a tablet, but to the person with a chronic illness it can mean every element of self-management that takes place outside the doctor’s office,” according to SelfCare. “[I]n the broadest sense of the term, self-care is a philosophy that transcends national boundaries and the healthcare systems which they contain.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

In short, self-care was never intended to be the health version of duct tape—a way to patch ourselves up when we’re in pieces from the outrageous demands of our work-centric society. It’s supposed to be part of our preventive care plan alongside working out, eating right, getting enough sleep, and/or other activities that are important for our personalized needs.

The notion of self-care has gotten a recent visibility boost as those of us who work in human rights and/or are activists encourage each other publicly to recharge. Most of the people I know who remind themselves and those in our movements to take time off do so to combat the productivity anxiety embedded in our work. We’re underpaid and overworked, but still feel guilty taking a break or, worse, spending money on ourselves when it could go to something movement- or bill-related.

The guilt is intensified by our capitalist system having infected the self-care philosophy, much as it seems to have infected everything else. Our bootstrap, do-it-yourself culture demands we work to the point of exhaustion—some of us because it’s the only way to almost make ends meet and others because putting work/career first is expected and applauded. Our previous president called it “uniquely American” that someone at his Omaha, Nebraska, event promoting “reform” of (aka cuts to) Social Security worked three jobs.

“Uniquely American, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)”

The audience was applauding working hours that are disastrous for health and well-being, laughing at sleep as though our bodies don’t require it to function properly. Bush actually nailed it: Throughout our country, we hold Who Worked the Most Hours This Week competitions and attempt to one-up the people at the coffee shop, bar, gym, or book club with what we accomplished. We have reached a point where we consider getting more than five or six hours of sleep a night to be “self-care” even though it should simply be part of regular care.

Most of us know intuitively that, in general, we don’t take good enough care of ourselves on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t something that just happened; it’s a function of our work culture. Don’t let the statistic that we work on average 34.4 hours per week fool you—that includes people working part time by choice or necessity, which distorts the reality for those of us who work full time. (Full time is defined by the Internal Revenue Service as 30 or more hours per week.) Gallup’s annual Work and Education Survey conducted in 2014 found that 39 percent of us work 50 or more hours per week. Only 8 percent of us on average work less than 40 hours per week. Millennials are projected to enjoy a lifetime of multiple jobs or a full-time job with one or more side hustles via the “gig economy.”

Despite worker productivity skyrocketing during the past 40 years, we don’t work fewer hours or make more money once cost of living is factored in. As Gillian White outlined at the Atlantic last year, despite politicians and “job creators” blaming financial crises for wage stagnation, it’s more about priorities:

Though productivity (defined as the output of goods and services per hours worked) grew by about 74 percent between 1973 and 2013, compensation for workers grew at a much slower rate of only 9 percent during the same time period, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.

It’s no wonder we don’t sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been sounding the alarm for some time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend people between 18 and 60 years old get seven or more hours sleep each night “to promote optimal health and well-being.” The CDC website has an entire section under the heading “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem,” outlining statistics and negative outcomes from our inability to find time to tend to this most basic need.

We also don’t get to the doctor when we should for preventive care. Roughly half of us, according to the CDC, never visit a primary care or family physician for an annual check-up. We go in when we are sick, but not to have screenings and discuss a basic wellness plan. And rarely do those of us who do go tell our doctors about all of our symptoms.

I recently had my first really wonderful check-up with a new primary care physician who made a point of asking about all the “little things” leading her to encourage me to consider further diagnosis for fibromyalgia. I started crying in her office, relieved that someone had finally listened and at the idea that my headaches, difficulty sleeping, recovering from illness, exhaustion, and pain might have an actual source.

Considering our deeply-ingrained priority problems, it’s no wonder that when I post on social media that I’ve taken a sick day—a concept I’ve struggled with after 20 years of working multiple jobs, often more than 80 hours a week trying to make ends meet—people applaud me for “doing self-care.” Calling my sick day “self-care” tells me that the commenter sees my post-traumatic stress disorder or depression as something I could work through if I so chose, amplifying the stigma I’m pushing back on by owning that a mental illness is an appropriate reason to take off work. And it’s not the commenter’s fault; the notion that working constantly is a virtue is so pervasive, it affects all of us.

Things in addition to sick days and sleep that I’ve had to learn are not engaging in self-care: going to the doctor, eating, taking my meds, going to therapy, turning off my computer after a 12-hour day, drinking enough water, writing, and traveling for work. Because it’s so important, I’m going to say it separately: Preventive health care—Pap smears, check-ups, cancer screenings, follow-ups—is not self-care. We do extras and nice things for ourselves to prevent burnout, not as bandaids to put ourselves back together when we break down. You can’t bandaid over skipping doctors appointments, not sleeping, and working your body until it’s a breath away from collapsing. If you’re already at that point, you need straight-up care.

Plenty of activities are self-care! My absolutely not comprehensive personal list includes: brunch with friends, adult coloring (especially the swear word books and glitter pens), soy wax with essential oils, painting my toenails, reading a book that’s not for review, a glass of wine with dinner, ice cream, spending time outside, last-minute dinner with my boyfriend, the puzzle app on my iPad, Netflix, participating in Caturday, and alone time.

My someday self-care wish list includes things like vacation, concerts, the theater, regular massages, visiting my nieces, decent wine, the occasional dinner out, and so very, very many books. A lot of what constitutes self-care is rather expensive (think weekly pedicures, spa days, and hobbies with gear and/or outfit requirements)—which leads to the privilege of getting to call any part of one’s routine self-care in the first place.

It would serve us well to consciously add an intersectional view to our enthusiasm for self-care when encouraging others to engage in activities that may be out of reach financially, may disregard disability, or may not be right for them for a variety of other reasons, including compounded oppression and violence, which affects women of color differently.

Over the past year I’ve noticed a spike in articles on how much of the emotional labor burden women carry—at the Toast, the Atlantic, Slate, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post. This category of labor disproportionately affects women of color. As Minaa B described at the Huffington Post last month:

I hear the term self-care a lot and often it is defined as practicing yoga, journaling, speaking positive affirmations and meditation. I agree that those are successful and inspiring forms of self-care, but what we often don’t hear people talking about is self-care at the intersection of race and trauma, social justice and most importantly, the unawareness of repressed emotional issues that make us victims of our past.

The often-quoted Audre Lorde wrote in A Burst of Light: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

While her words ring true for me, they are certainly more weighted and applicable for those who don’t share my white and cisgender privilege. As covered at Ravishly, the Feminist Wire, Blavity, the Root, and the Crunk Feminist Collective recently, self-care for Black women will always have different expressions and roots than for white women.

But as we continue to talk about self-care, we need to be clear about the difference between self-care and actual care and work to bring the necessities of life within reach for everyone. Actual care should not have to be optional. It should be a priority in our culture so that it can be a priority in all our lives.

News Politics

Debbie Wasserman Schultz Resigns as Chair of DNC, Will Not Gavel in Convention

Ally Boguhn

Donna Brazile, vice chair of the DNC, will step in as interim replacement for Wasserman Schultz as committee chair.

On the eve of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) resigned her position as chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), effective after the convention, amid controversy over leaked internal party emails and months of criticism over her handling of the Democratic primary races.

Wasserman Schultz told the Sun Sentinel on Monday that she would not gavel in this week’s convention, according to Politico.

“I know that electing Hillary Clinton as our next president is critical for America’s future,” Wasserman Schultz said in a Sunday statement announcing her decision. “Going forward, the best way for me to accomplish those goals is to step down as Party Chair at the end of this convention.”

“We have planned a great and unified Convention this week and I hope and expect that the DNC team that has worked so hard to get us to this point will have the strong support of all Democrats in making sure this is the best convention we have ever had,” Wasserman Schultz continued.

Just prior to news that Wasserman Schultz would step down, it was announced that Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) would chair the DNC convention.

Donna Brazile, vice chair of the DNC, will step in as interim replacement for Wasserman Schultz as committee chair.

Wasserman Schultz’s resignation comes after WikiLeaks released more than 19,000 internal emails from the DNC, breathing new life into arguments that the Democratic Party—and Wasserman Schultz in particular—had “rigged” the primary in favor of nominating Hillary Clinton. As Vox‘s Timothy B. Lee pointed out, there seems to be “no bombshells” in the released emails, though one email does show that Brad Marshall, chief financial officer of the DNC, emailed asking whether an unnamed person could be questioned about “his” religious beliefs. Many believe the email was referencing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT).

Another email from Wasserman Schultz revealed the DNC chair had referred to Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, as a “damn liar.”

As previously reported by Rewire before the emails’ release, “Wasserman Schultz has been at the center of a string of heated criticisms directed at her handling of the DNC as well as allegations that she initially limited the number of the party’s primary debates, steadfastly refusing to add more until she came under pressure.” She also sparked controversy in January after suggesting that young women aren’t supporting Clinton because there is “a complacency among the generation” who were born after Roe v. Wade was decided.

“Debbie Wasserman Schultz has made the right decision for the future of the Democratic Party,” said Sanders in a Sunday statement. “While she deserves thanks for her years of service, the party now needs new leadership that will open the doors of the party and welcome in working people and young people. The party leadership must also always remain impartial in the presidential nominating process, something which did not occur in the 2016 race.”

Sanders had previously demanded Wasserman Schultz’s resignation in light of the leaked emails during an appearance earlier that day on ABC’s This Week.

Clinton nevertheless stood by Wasserman Schultz in a Sunday statement responding to news of the resignation. “I am grateful to Debbie for getting the Democratic Party to this year’s historic convention in Philadelphia, and I know that this week’s events will be a success thanks to her hard work and leadership,” said Clinton. “There’s simply no one better at taking the fight to the Republicans than Debbie—which is why I am glad that she has agreed to serve as honorary chair of my campaign’s 50-state program to gain ground and elect Democrats in every part of the country, and will continue to serve as a surrogate for my campaign nationally, in Florida, and in other key states.”

Clinton added that she still looks “forward to campaigning with Debbie in Florida and helping her in her re-election bid.” Wasserman Schultz faces a primary challenger, Tim Canova, for her congressional seat in Florida’s 23rd district for the first time this year.