Obama and the Acceptable Abortion

Jill Filipovic

When discussing late-term abortion, Barack Obama used talking points we would expect to hear from John McCain: abstinence, adoption, and sacredness of sex.

Aw, Barry, say it ain’t so

Strang: Based on emails we received,
another issue of deep importance to our readers is a candidate’s stance
on abortion. We largely know your platform,
but there seems to be some real confusion about your position on
third-trimester and partial-birth abortions. Can you clarify your
stance for us?

Obama: I absolutely can, so please don’t believe
the emails. I have repeatedly said that I think it’s entirely
appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions
as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of
the mother. Now, I don’t think that “mental distress” qualifies as the health of the mother.
I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy,
where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that
child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception
in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.

That quote is from here. And while that piece is certainly the most offensive, I’m also not thrilled with his answer here:

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Strang: You’ve said you’re personally
against abortion and would like to see a reduction in the number of
abortions under your administration. So, as president, how would do you
propose accomplishing that?

Obama: I think we know that abortions rise when
unwanted pregnancies rise. So, if we are continuing what has been a
promising trend in the reduction of teen pregnancies, through education
and abstinence education giving good information to teenagers. That is
important—emphasizing the sacredness of sexual behavior to our
children. I think that’s something that we can encourage. I think
encouraging adoptions in a significant way. I think the proper role of
government. So there are ways that we can make a difference, and those
are going to be things I focus on when I am president.

I love Obama. I find him incredibly inspiring. I’ve had a lot of
silly, idealistic little hopes pinned on him. I so badly want him to be
a candidate who stands up for progressive values without apology.
Instead, it looks like he’s taking the traditional Democratic route of
moving towards the center and trying to please everyone.

This is why Democrats are losing the abortion-rights battle: We’re
adopting the right-wing frame and rhetoric, and speaking in their
terms. The question “How can we reduce the abortion rate?” is an easy
gimme for any pro-choice candidate. You say: “Education, health care
and contraception access are the most effective ways to decrease the
need for abortion. Abstinence-only sex education has been a colossal
failure, and around the world we can see that the abortion rate is
lowest in countries with comprehensive sex ed programs, wide-spread
access to contraception, health care for all, and a strong social
safety net. We know what works; but it’s Republicans who continuously
block legislation that would decrease the abortion rate. Democrats in
Congress have repeatedly tried to increase contraception access for all
women, and have tried to promote initiatives that would make it easier
for women to choose to have children — initiatives like aid to
low-income families, subsidized day-care programs, and early childhood
education. It is the Democratic party that has taken important steps to
actually decrease the abortion rate, while the supposedly “pro-life”
Republicans have put barriers in the way of pregnancy prevention, then
limited abortion access, and then made life more difficult for women
and their children. It seems that “pro-life” Republicans only care
about life up until the moment of birth — and they have taken no steps
to actually decrease the need for abortion. By contrast, my
administration will take a comprehensive, truly life-affirming view: We
will support women, men and children at all stages of life, and we will
give Americans as many options as possible to make the best decisions
for themselves and their families.”

Not hard. Instead, Obama used talking points that I would expect to
hear from John McCain: Abstinence education. The sacredness of sexual
behavior. Adoption.

I realize he’s talking to a Christian magazine, and so he needs to
frame the issue in a way that resonates with Christian readers. But
“Christian” or even “pro-life” does not equal “Republican,” or
“pro-life” in the way that mainstream anti-choice organizations and
politicians are “pro-life.” A whole lot of self-identified pro-life
people don’t actually want to see women dying of dangerous illegal
abortions; a lot of pro-life people realize that criminalizing the
procedure isn’t the answer, and that instead we should decrease the need
for abortion through common-sense measures like education,
contraception, economic justice and universal health care. That’s a big
block of voters; I’d like to hear Obama talk to them — in part because
the Republican party claims to speak for them, but doesn’t actually
represent their interests.

And I’d like to see Obama stand up for his pro-choice base. The
issue of late-term abortions is a tricky one, because anti-choicers
trot it out as if huge numbers of women were waiting until the eighth
month of pregnancy to terminate. In reality, third-trimester abortions
count for about one-half of one percent of all abortions. It’s already
nearly impossible to obtain a late-term abortion in much of the
country, and it is actually impossible to obtain one for purely
elective purposes. Women who terminate pregnancies in the third
trimester aren’t doing it for kicks; they’re doing it because they have
some sort of serious health problem that requires it, or there’s a
fetal abnormality.

Obama did say he supports late-term abortion rights in the case of a
physical medical problem, but he took out mental health as a legitimate
concern. That’s a talking point that you hear a lot from anti-choicers:
That mental health is a “loophole” through which any undeserving
baby-carrier could legitimately terminate her pregnancy.

But mental health underlies many of actual reasons women have
late-term abortions. Take severe fetal abnormalities — where a wanted
pregnancy goes wrong, and the problem isn’t discovered until relatively
late. In many situations — anencephaly, for example — carrying the
pregnancy to term might not be any more dangerous than carrying a
healthy fetus to term. Pregnancy and childbirth always come with
serious risks, and it’s often impossible to know which risks will
arise, but many fetal abnormalities don’t pose the kind of physical
harm to the pregnant woman that would seem to pass anti-choice (and
now, Obama) muster. (To be clear, many fetal abnormalities do
pose significant health risks — it’s just not the rule. Which is
precisely why this issue should be evaluated case-by-case between a
woman and her doctor, and politicians should butt out). So even though
many fetal abnormalities don’t threaten the pregnant woman’s health or
life, most people seem to agree that it’s cruel to force a woman to
give birth to a baby that cannot possibly survive (if it’s even born
alive, which many anencephalic fetuses aren’t). But if a doomed
pregnancy doesn’t threaten a pregnant woman’s physical health, why
would we allow her to terminate it?

Because, obviously, it threatens her mental health in no
small way. Being forced to carry a wanted but doomed pregnancy, and
being forced to go through childbirth to produce a dead or dying baby,
is understandably deeply emotionally traumatic. We want to give women
the option to avoid that kind of mental trauma because we recognize
that physical harm is not the only harm that matters.

And the psychological harm of being forced to give birth against
your will to a baby that will not survive is not the only kind of
psychological harm that matters. It is impossible to account for all
the circumstances under which mental issues may seriously impair the
ability of a pregnant woman to function, and may be just as threatening
as physical issues. People face diverse circumstances, and when it
comes to health and medical care, sweeping rules can cause widespread
harm. Which is why when it comes to issues like abortion and other
medical procedures, we should err on the side of providing care, not
limiting it, and we should allow individual circumstances to be best
evaluated by the people living those circumstances and the doctors
treating them.

That is the position that we expect pro-choice politicians to stake
out. Either Obama caved to anti-choicers on this one, or he really
believes it and isn’t as strongly pro-choice as many of us thought. I’m
not sure which is worse.

This post was originally published at Feministe.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.


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