Roundup: Obama on Late Term Abortion

Brady Swenson

Obama's controversial statement on late term abortion, Kate Michleman and Frances Kissling on Dems and abortion, Plan B ban in Washington state, George Tiller exonerated again.

Obama and Abortion … Senator Obama continues the politician’s seemingly obligatory march to the middle in anticipation of November’s general election, this time with abortion rights. In a discussion with Relevant, a magazine intended for "twentysomething Christians," this unsettling exchange occurred:

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.

Jill from Feministe has written a well thought out reaction to Obama’s answer. While Obama’s answer is ostensibly the politically expedient one Jill points out that answers like this are the reason why progressives have been losing the reproductive health debate for quite some time:

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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.”

The Reproductive Rights Professors Blog has also written a great response that includes an explaination as to why a mental health exception is necessary in any abortion-restricting legislation:


Abortions in the third trimester are rare (accounting for less than 1% of
abortions in the United States). But compelling mental health concerns, no less
than physical concerns, account for the need for late abortions. For example,
when women seek abortions in the late stages of pregnancy, it is often because
they are carrying a wanted pregnancy and have discovered that the fetus has a
severe anomaly. Should a woman be forced to carry to term a fetus that has Tay
Sachs disease? Imagine her daily life for those remaining weeks, having
strangers congratulate her, ask her whether she’s having a boy or girl, what she
plans to name her baby. Imagine her going through hours of labor and giving
birth in the delivery ward, among all the ecstatic new parents. Is this woman’s
situation not "significant" enough to merit an abortion?

Obama’s answer seems to suggest that mental health issues arising from a
pregnancy aren’t "real." Dismissive attitudes toward mental health are
prevalent in the abortion context (although one would not expect Obama to share
them). Disregard for the mental health of women seeking abortions clashes
notably with the progress made by advocates seeking parity in the treatment of
mental health issues. As Cynthia Dailard writes in a 1999 article, Abortion
Restrictions and the Drive for Mental Health Parity: A Conflict in Values?

(Guttmacher Institute):

[R]ecent actions beg the question of why providing equitable treatment for
people with mental illness is gaining currency in virtually every public policy
context except abortion, where it is fast losing ground.

Are Democrats Backpedaling on Abortion? … Kate Michleman and Frances Kissling have published a reaction to the statements of Rev. Jim Wallis who advocated for the addition of an ‘abortion reduction’ plank to the Democratic Party’s platform. Scott wrote about Wallis’ comments last week and Michleman and Kissling echo many of his thoughts including pointing out that the party’s platform and actions on abortion have long coincided with efforts to reduce the frequency of the procedure:

Why should the Democratic Party platform be framed by such groups, who also seem
ignorant of the fact that the platform already contains all the elements
necessary to reduce the need for abortion? The platform supports access to
family planning, the single most important factor in preventing pregnancy, and
promotes an economic program, heathcare reform and protections for women’s
equality that would, if enacted, make it more possible for women who become
pregnant and wish to continue those pregnancies to keep and raise their children
in a secure environment.

Seattle Times Advocates Injuction on Plan B Ban in Washington State … A federal judge has suspended a Washington state law requiring pharmacists to fill subscriptions for contraceptives, including the emergency contraceptive comercially referred to as Plan B, despite pharmacists personal or religious beliefs on the morality of contraceptives. The suspension means pharmacists in Washington can refuse to dispense Plan B emergency contraception to a woman while the law’s constitutionality is being debated in appellate courts. A Seattle Times editorial today says the court should lift the injunction so that women do not have to wait nearly a year (debate is set to start in April 2009) to find out whether pharmacies will meet their needs or turn them

Pharmacists already exercise professional freedom. They can question
prescriptions or refuse to dispense medication if it would conflict with other
medications a patient is taking, or if the medicine is prescribed at dangerously
high dosages. Pharmacists can refuse to fill prescriptions suspected of being
forgeries or aiding chemical dependencies.

But they cannot use their authority to push personal views on others —
particularly when a woman’s health is at stake.

A poll by Planned Parenthood found 70 percent of those surveyed opposed
allowing pharmacists to pick and choose prescriptions based on personal, moral
and religious beliefs. Three-quarters of respondents view birth control and
contraceptives — including emergency contraception — as basic health care for

Abortion Provider Dr. George Tiller Exonerated, Again … Anti-choicers in Kansas, led by Johnson County District Attorney Phill Kline, have been on a crusade against Dr. George Tiller for many years. While Phill Kline was state Attorney General of Kansas he stretched the authority of his office to demand private medical records in an attempt to dig up evidence of wrong-doing by Dr. Tiller. Kline’s efforts were fruitless, Dr. Tiller was exonerated, and Kline was roundly defeated in his 2006 re-election effort. When Kline found another job in Johnson County he resumed his efforts to convict Dr. George Tiller of performing illegal late term abortions. This time Kline and other anti-choicers gathered thousands of signatures to impanel a citizen grand jury to investigate Dr. Tiller. This rarely used public tool was created as a check against government corruption and had never been used against a private citizen. Nevertheless the attempt again proved fruitless as the grand jury investigating Wichita abortion provider Dr. George Tiller
adjourned Wednesday afternoon without a criminal indictment.


News Politics

Tim Kaine Changes Position on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back the Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.

“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.

The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.

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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard  that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”

Clinton’s campaign told Rewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care. 

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”

When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”

News Politics

Democratic Party Platform: Repeal Bans on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Hillary Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde Amendment.”

Democrats voted on their party platform Monday, codifying for the first time the party’s stated commitment to repealing restrictions on federal funding for abortion care.

The platform includes a call to repeal the Hyde Amendment, an appropriations ban on federal funding for abortion reimplemented on a yearly basis. The amendment disproportionately affects people of color and those with low incomes.

“We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured,” states the Democratic Party platform. “We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.”

The platform also calls for an end to the Helms Amendment, which ensures that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.”

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Though Helms allows funding for abortion care in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, the Obama administration has failed to enforce those guarantees.

Despite the platform’s opposition to the restrictions on abortion care funding, it makes no mention of how the anti-choice measures would be rolled back.

Both presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have promised to address Hyde and Helms if elected. Clinton has said she would “fix the Helms Amendment.”

Speaking at the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum in January, Clinton said that the Hyde Amendment “is just hard to justify because … certainly the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.” In 2008, Clinton’s campaign told Rewire that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said in an interview with the Weekly Standard that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

“The Hyde amendment and Helms amendment have prevented countless low-income women from being able to make their own decisions about health, family, and future,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement, addressing an early draft of the platform. “These amendments have ensured that a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion is a right that’s easier to access if you have the resources to afford it. That’s wrong and stands directly in contrast with the Democratic Party’s principles, and we applaud the Party for reaffirming this in the platform.”