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.

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.”

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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.