Obama Plays Offense Asserting Pro-Education, Pro-Prevention, Pro-Choice Values

Scott Swenson

Sen. Barack Obama is shedding ghosts of Democrats past and standing up for pro-education, pro-prevention and pro-choice values in an election that is starting to help voters realize there is more to the issue than abortion alone.

No one will be able to accuse Sen. Barack Obama of not making his pro-education, pro-prevention, pro-choice values clear in this election. 

Unlike ghosts of Democrats past that hemmed and hawed, straddling hot-button issues like abortion by playing defense against the harsh tactics and misinformation spread by far-right social conservatives, Obama has clearly stated his beliefs and aggressively defended his values. He shaped his party’s platform to reflect values that both pro-choice and pro-life Democrats embraced, and spoke clearly to all Americans by saying in his acceptance speech "We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unintended pregnancies in this country."

Polling has consistently suggested that a majority of Americans agree abortion should remain legal with some restricitions, but few candidates have been willing to take on the more aggressive far-right and their extreme tactics.  Even Congressional Democrats who regained the majority in 2006 have been reluctant to stand up to the far-right on issues like abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, contraception and reproductive health issues.  Democrats (pro-life and pro-choice) along with pro-choice Republicans made efforts by introducing pro-education and pro-prevention legislation, but when votes were required on continuing abstinence-only funding and integrating reproductive health services with HIV prevention in the US global AIDS legislation known as PEPFAR, the far-right held Congress hostage.

The Associated Press today talks about how Sen. John McCain, "seems content with the public’s perception that he’s more moderate on the issue" of abortion while Obama is educating voters about McCain’s real position which advocates making abortion illegal. The GOP platform rejected pro-choice Republicans completely,  calling for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. McCain touts his pro-life record, says he will appoint Supreme Court Justices that will overturn Roe v Wade, and selected a running mate in Gov. Sarah Palin who believes abortion should be banned even in cases of rape and incest.

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Politically, Obama’s embrace of the education and prevention agenda long encompassed in the phrase "pro-choice" represents a shift away from abortion politics as usual.  Too often mainstream media and advocacy organizations on both sides have missed the nuance of sexual and reproductive health issues, and assumed a candidate’s position on abortion defined them on many other issues.

McCain seems to adhere to the far-right playbook of the ’70’s and ’80’s that many voters are familiar with: run to the right in the primaries and then attempt to appeal to moderates in the general election, and finally govern from the far-right if elected. As soon as his nomination was secure, statements about his wife’s more moderate position on abortion started to emerge, and even Palin repeated the correct talking point about "reaching out to the other side" in her interview with Charlie Gibson

In this election, the attention to the full range of sexual and reproductive health issues in the mainstream media coverage, sensational as it often is, is giving voters and candidates a chance to talk about how these very personal and private issues translate to public policies in our pluralistic democracy.

Susan Cohen, director of government affairs at the Guttmacher Institute said, "Obama’s strong stance on prevention
and his common-sense positions make for smart politics, and it makes sense that
he would want to let the electorate know where he stands on the issue. His views on abortion rights
more closely correspond to where the majority of Americans stand than those of John

"Obama’s positions and votes in
favor of making abortion less necessary by promoting a real prevention agenda are
light years ahead of McCain’s, who has actually voted against policies and programs that would
make a real difference in reducing unintended pregnancy to begin with," Cohen added.

NARAL Pro-Choice America issued a poll earlier this year about how pro-choice values play, particularly in swing states. According to U.S News and World Report, "women voters in states including Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and
Pennsylvania, [pollster Al] Quinlan says that Obama gained 13 points among pro-choice
independent women and 9 points among pro-choice Republican women once
they were presented with what the pollsters called ‘a balanced
description of the candidates’ respective positions on choice.’"

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL
Pro-Choice America said, "Sen. Obama is consistently strong in expressing
his pro-choice values, and that message not only energizes our pro-choice base
but it connects with swing voters, especially the moderate independent
women who will decide this election. The Obama campaign’s approach
underscores what we’ve known for a long time: choice is a winning issue."

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund said, "When it
comes to women’s health and rights, including protecting Roe v. Wade, the choice
is clear. Barack Obama has a long and consistent record of standing up for
women’s health. John McCain has voted against women’s health 125 times,
including voting against affordable birth control. He wants to overturn Roe v.
. Not enough voters know how out of touch McCain is when it comes to women’s
health. The more voters, particularly women, learn about the striking
differences between Obama and McCain on women’s health, the more likely they
will be to support Obama."

During the campaign so far, voters have had a chance to get beyond the surface solgans and really examine pro-choice vs. pro-life values on a range of sexual and reproductive health issues.

Last week the nation was treated to a teachable moment on age appropriate comprehensive sex ed as the McCain campaign attacked Obama in ads that have been widely criticized as being inaccurate, both about the Illinois legislation the ad questioned, and fact that most people think it is in children’s best interest to grow up with a healthy sense of body and self, and be able to protect themselves from pedophile priests, teachers, family members.  

With Gov. Sarah Palin’s explosion on the national scene we’ve also witnessed discussion about the failures of abstinence-only-until-marriage-programs and the reality of teen pregnancy. Voters are discussing what works and what doesn’t with respect to education and prevention, within families where all private choices should be made and respected, and as a matter of public health for parents who are concerned about the education and information given to their children. Parents can and should teach sexual health and respect in the home, but eventually they encounter the world, and comprehensive sex ed is about creating a base line of factual, age appropriate, evidence-based, reliable scientific data all parents and kids can use to learn respect and personal responsibility.

Often overlooked, voters are also seeing how candidates deal with the difficult issue of violence against women and rape, and the subjugation stemming from a culture that allows women to be abused.

Voters also have a front row seat for the Quadrennial Catholic Intramurals with Obama’s selection of Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate. Biden’s ability to separate his private faith from public duty, a view shared overwhelmingly by lay Catholics, raised the hackles of the far more political hierarchy of the church, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The one issue that has not yet been explicitly discussed by the campaigns is contraception, which is currently under a very real and dangerous threat from far-right social conservatives.  McCain was asked about insurance coverage for contraception, relative to the fact Viagra is widely covered, and was visibly uncomfortable before making no comment. 

The Bush Administration is already attempting to make contraception access more difficult, which is counter-intuitive to most Americans who use contraception to avoid unintended pregnancies and thus reduce abortions. The final few days for public commenting on a rule change proposed by the Bush Department of Health and Human Services are ticking away (Sept. 25 is the deadline, register your comments here) and it seems logical that if the campaigns are going to talk about all of these other sexual and reproductive health issues, a more direct conversation about contraception access and affordability is also in order.

Looming over all of these discussions about sexual and reproductive health is the Supreme Court and the appointment of the next two or three Justices.  If Roe v. Wade is overturned abortion will be banned in 23 states in an instant and the door will be open for Congress to legislate a federal ban in all 50 states, ensuring the extreme politics of the far-right will continue to divide the nation. Banning abortion will not stop abortion, only make criminals out of women and doctors, and endanger their health and lives. 

In addition, one of the precedents upon which Roe is based, Griswold v Connecticut, could also be threatened. Griswold challenged a law prohibiting the use of contraception based on a privacy claim, underscoring yet again the threat to contraception, even though access and affordability remains an issue for far too many people.





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

Ohio Legislator: ‘Aggressive Attacks’ May Block Voters From the Polls

Ally Boguhn

Efforts to remove voters from state rolls and curb access to the polls could have an outsized impact in Ohio, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership.

Ohio Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) said she is worried about the impact of what she called “aggressive attacks” on voting rights in her state.

Ohio voters who have not engaged in voter activity in a fixed period of time, generally two years, are considered by the state to have moved, which then begins the process of removing them from their rolls through something called the “Supplemental Process.” If a voter fails to respond to a postcard mailed to them to confirm their address, they become “inactive voters.” If an inactive voter does not engage in voter activity for four years, they’re automatically unregistered to vote and must re-register to cast a ballot. 

Though other states routinely clean voting rolls, most don’t use failure to vote as a reason to remove someone.

“We have two million voters purged from the rolls in the last five years, many in the last four years since the last presidential election,” Clyde said during an interview with Rewire

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Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) dismissed concerns of the voter purges’ impact during an interview with Reuters. “If this is really important thing to you in your life, voting, you probably would have done so within a six-year period,” he said.

Ohio’s removal of voters through this process “is particularly problematic in the lead-up to the November 2016 federal election because voters who voted in the high-turnout 2008 federal election (but who did not vote in any subsequent elections) were removed from voter rolls in 2015,” according to an amicus curiae brief filed by the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights division in support of those who filed suit against Ohio’s law. 

The DOJ has urged the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a lower court’s ruling in favor of the state, writing that Ohio’s voter purge violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Since 2012, at least 144,000 voters have been removed from Ohio’s voter rolls in its three biggest counties, Reuters reported. The secretary of state’s office said 2 million registered voters had been taken off the rolls in the past five years, though many had been removed because they were deceased.

Husted contends that he is just enforcing the law. “Ohio manages its voter rolls in direct compliance of both federal and state laws, and is consistent with an agreement in this same federal court just four years ago,” Husted said in an April statement after the ACLU of Ohio and Demos, a voting rights organization, filed a lawsuit in the matter.

In predominantly Black neighborhoods near downtown Cincinnati, “more than 10 percent of registered voters have been removed due to inactivity since 2012,” reported Reuters. The outlet found that several places where more voters had cast ballots for President Obama in 2012 were the same locations experiencing higher percentages of purged voters.

“Some of the data is showing that African Americans voters and Democratic voters were much more likely affected,” Clyde said when discussing the state’s purge of registered voters. 

Clyde has requested data on those purged from the rolls, but has been turned down twice. “They’ve said no in two different ways and are referring me to the boards of elections, but there are 88 boards of election,” she told RewireWith limited staff resources to devote to data collection, Clyde is still searching for a way to get answers.

In the meantime, many otherwise eligible voters may have their votes thrown away and never know it.

“[P]eople that had been purged often don’t know that they’ve been purged, so they may show up to vote and find their name isn’t on the roll,” Clyde said. “Then, typically that voter is given a provisional ballot and … told that the board of elections will figure out the problem with their voter registration. And then they don’t really receive notice that that provisional ballot doesn’t eventually count.” 

Though the state’s voter purges could continue to disenfranchise voters across the state, it is hardly the only effort that may impact voting rights there.

“There have been a number of efforts undertaken by the GOP in Ohio to make voting more difficult,” Clyde said. “That includes fighting to shorten the number of early voting days available, that includes fighting to throw out people’s votes that have been cast—whether it be a provisional ballot or absentee ballot—and that includes purging more voters than any other state.” 

This could make a big difference for voters in the state, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership—including failed Republican presidential candidate Gov. John Kasich.

“So aside from the terrible effect that has on the fundamental right to vote in Ohio, progressives who maybe are infrequent voters or are seeing what’s happening around [reproductive rights and health] issues and want to express that through their vote may experience problems in Ohio because of these aggressive attacks on voting rights,” Clyde said. 

“From our presidential candidates on down to our candidates for the state legislature, there is a lot at stake when it comes to reproductive health care and reproductive rights in this election,” Clyde added. “So I think that, if that is an issue that is important to any Ohioan, they need to have their voice heard in this election.” 


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