Facing Tough Media Questions, Obama, Biden Discuss Views on Abortion, Democracy, Choice

Scott Swenson

Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden discussed their views on when life begins as matters of personal faith and public policy by answering tough questions from mainstream media on ABC's This Week and NBC's Meet the Press.

Sen. Barack Obama today on ABC’s This Week (video) countered misinformation from the far-right about what he meant when he responded to a question from pastor Rick Warren about when human rights begin, via Politico:

During separate televised interviews last month, Pastor Rick Warren asked the two presidential candidates when a baby gets human rights. Obama replied that the question is “above my pay grade,” while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won love from the right by saying quickly, “At the moment of conception.”

Now, Obama tells ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an interview taped for “This Week”: “What I intended to say is that, as a Christian, I have a lot of humility about understanding when does the soul enter into … It’s a pretty tough question. And so, all I meant to communicate was that I don’t presume to be able to answer these kinds of theological questions.”

In the ABC interview, Obama goes on to give the answer he wishes he’d given: “What I do know is that abortion is a moral issue, that it’s one that families struggle with all the time. And that in wrestling with those issues, I don’t think that the government criminalizing the choices that families make is the best answer for reducing abortions.

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“I think the better answer — and this was reflected in the Democratic platform — is to figure out, how do we make sure the young mothers, or women who have a pregnancy that’s unexpected or difficult, have the kind of support they need to make a whole range of choices, including adoption and keeping the child.


Obama acknowledged that his response may have been flip, but most people understood that his explanation above is what he meant.  For those who believe only in making the choice for a safe, legal abortion illegal by overturning Roe v. Wade, the original quote was used to fan the flames of the far-right.

McCain replied to the same question by declaring that life begins at conception, which is in line with current Bush Administration proposals to undermine access to contraception, and McCain has pledged the he will appoint Supreme Court Justices that will make the choice for a safe, legal abortion a crime.

Obama’s Vice Presidential running mate Sen. Joe Biden made his 42nd appearance on Meet the Press (video below) answering tough questions from the media, and Tom Brokaw asked him about the debate over when life begins and what that means for our democracy:

Sen. Joe Biden: I know when it begins for me. It is a personal and private issue. For me as a Roman Catholic I’m prepared to accept the teaching of my church. But let me tell you, there are a lot of people of great confessional faiths, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and others, who have a different view. They believe in God as strongly as I do. They’re intently as religious as I am religious. They believe in their faith and they believe in human life, and they have differing views. I’m prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception, but that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally, maybe even more devout than I am, seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society. And I know you get the push back, well what about fascism, are you going to say fascism is all right. Fascism isn’t a matter of faith, no decent religious person thinks fascism is all right.  

Tom Brokaw: You believe that life begins at conception and you’ve also voted for abortion rights. 

Sen. Joe Biden: No, what I’ve voted against is curtailing the right, criminalizing abortion. I’ve voted against telling everyone else in the country that they have to accept my religiously based view, that it’s a moment of conception. There is a debate in our church as Cardinal Egan would acknowledge that’s existed, back in Summa Theologica when Thomas Aquainas wrote Summa Theologica he said it didn’t happen until quickening, 40 days after conception. How am I going out to tell you or anyone else, that you must insist upon my view that is based on a matter of faith, and that’s the reason I haven’t. But then again I also don’t support a lot of other things. I don’t support the public funding, because that flips the burden, that’s then telling me that I have to accept a different view. This is a matter between a person’s God, however they believe in God, their doctor and themselves, and what we’re going to be doing is make sure that we reduce considerably the number of abortions that take place by providing the care, the assistance and the encouragement for people to be able to carry to term and to raise their children. 


Sen. John McCain’s Vice-Presidential running mate Gov. Sarah Palin was the only one of the four major candidates not to appear on a major media interview program today to respond to questions about her beliefs, experience or the future of the country.  McCain made his 65th appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation but was not asked any questions about sexual and reproductive health.

Palin’s views are in line with the GOP platform, called by observers the most extreme on abortion in history, opposing safe, legal abortion even in the cases of rape and incest. Like McCain’s support for Supreme Court Justices like Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Roberts, Palin did make at least one "pro-life" judicial appointment to the Alaska Supreme Court after saying a ruling on the unconstitutionality of a parental notification law was "outrageous."

The McCain-Palin campaign, having fired up the far-right base that wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, has also started to try to appeal to moderates by suggesting that their far-right views, and the most extremely anti-abortion GOP platform in history which calls for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, are more nuanced.



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