Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Mendacity of Hope: Obama's Agenda for Abortion

It has been over 35 years since the controversial Roe v Wade Supreme Court (7-2) decision to make early term abortions legal in the US. Despite the landmark decision in 1973 abortion rights are still being vigorously contested in many quarters of the country. For those against abortion mainly for religious beliefs but also for profound moral reasons argue that abortion as defined by Roe is the willful taking of a precious human life endowed with all the rights, privileges, and protections guaranteed everyone by our government. On the other side those in favor of the right to abortion argue that women should have control over their own bodies making it an issue of privacy; a personal decision that should not be privy to our government. These disparate and contentious points of view underscore the essence of the debate that has been ongoing for nearly four decades and in all likelihood will continue to rage on for the foreseeable future certainly through and beyond the Obama administration.

So where does our newly elected “post partisan” President stand on this inflammatory issue of abortion? As the most liberal democrat while in the US Senate, Obama strongly supports a women’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy for any reason through legal and safe abortion procedures as defined by Roe. If you accept his voting record as well as his public speeches and policy statements, Obama will apparently do just about anything and everything he can to preserve a women’s right to affordable and unfettered abortion on demand as promoted by tax subsidized abortion providers like Planned Parenthood. Indeed, Obama’s explicit even enthusiastic support for abortion on demand has rightly earned him a 100% rating from NARAL (National Abortion & Reproductive Rights Action League) Pro-Choice America as well as an enthusiastic endorsement from Planned Parenthood the largest abortion provider in the US. In contrast, Obama not surprisingly has received a rating of 0% by the NRLC (National Right to Life Committee) the largest and most influential nonprofit prolife advocacy organization.

Obama’s wife Michelle who is his closest political advisor is also pro choice and strongly supports a women’s right to abortion on deman. Like her husband Mrs. Obama who also graduated from Harvard law school holds extreme views on abortion and wrote a controversial fund raising letter defending a partial birth abortion procedure known as “intact dilation and evacuation”, a contentious late-term abortion technique. In her letter she called partial birth abortion a “legitimate medical procedure” and declared the federal ban “a flawed law” that “is clearly unconstitutional”. However, the Supreme Court in 2007 disagreed with her albeit narrowly upholding the ban with a vote of 5-4.

As for Obama’s voting record as an Illinois legislator he opposed the bill to ban partial birth abortion and the state’s “Born Alive Infants Protection Act” that ensures the rights of children who survive failed abortion attempts. He also voted against legislation banning state funding for abortions. In fact Obama has never supported any limitation of abortion to either lessen its availability or reduce its public funding. He has made it unambiguously clear that he opposes any and all government restrictions on abortion, including partial-birth abortions. Obama even strongly criticized the Supreme Court decision upholding the federal law banning partial-birth abortion and in 2007 also voted to expand research on embryonic stem cells. Obama seems to hold a rather extreme position on abortion that is widely considered outside the mainstream. Most Americans support for abortion is highly conditional and overwhelmingly (71%) reject unrestricted abortion viewing abortion as a profound moral issue that should be limited with reasonable regulation by the government preferably at the state and local levels. Only about 28% of Americans support abortion at any time for any reason.

To circumvent the mainstream Obama along with 18 other pro abortion senators has sponsored the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) and in July 2007 Obama gave an impassioned speech to a Planned Parenthood Action Fund event promising "The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act." The passage of FOCA would essentially nullify every federal, state, and local law limiting or regulating abortion including the Hyde Amendment prohibiting federal funding of abortion and the current federal ban on partial birth abortions signed into law in 2003 by President Bush. FOCA besides making abortion on demand a "fundamental right" throughout the United States would simultaneously invalidate all laws on informed consent and parental notification as well as any mandatory waiting periods. It also would eliminate all state restrictions on taxpayer funding of abortions and health safety regulations for abortion clinics. Moreover, in opposition to the first amendment it would require for the first time Catholic and other religious hospitals to provide abortions.

Perhaps Obama’s most personally revealing statement regarding abortion was when he said if his daughters "make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby." Not exactly a ringing endorsement for family values. In another interview when asked when life begins Obama glibly replied “I don’t know” that “is above my pay grade”. Now as the 44th President of the United States and new commander in chief, it is surely no longer above his pay grade since he will likely have the opportunity to select the next Supreme Court justice. As for the type of justices he might choose, Obama believes the constitution is a “living document” and is likely to appoint liberal non strict constructionalist to the bench along the lines of Breyer, Ginsberg, and Souter. Obama voted against both of Bush’s appointments, Chief Justice John Roberts and Sam Alito each confirmed by comfortable senate margins.

Obama’s constitutional philosophy on Supreme Court appointments was aptly revealed when he implored that “we need someone who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it is like to be a young teenage mom”. He elaborated saying “the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that’s the criteria by which I’m going to be selecting my judges.” Empathy means “judicial activism” and seems a strange criterion by which to select judges for an intellectual who taught constitutional law for a decade. Ironically, Obama claims he would not have appointed Clarence Thomas, who's only the second African American ever appointed to the court, saying Thomas “was not a strong enough jurist or legal thinker”.

Obama orchestrated a brilliant “cult of personality” campaign centered on the banal platitudes of HOPE and CHANGE. His charismatic persona, soaring rhetoric, and ubiquitous campaign slogans of “Change We Can Believe In” and “Audacity of Hope” were overarching themes on which he built his bipartisan presidential bid. Let’s all “hope” Obama as “the one we’ve been waiting for” will indeed bring “change” but not just to America but also to himself with a repudiation of his militant commitment to unrestricted abortion with the appointment of non activist judges that respect our constitution and the inalienable rights of all Americans whether they be born or unborn.

Within days of becoming the historic 44th President of the United States and only a day after the 36th anniversary of Roe v Wade, Obama signed an executive order to reverse the ban on federal aid to international family planning organizations that perform abortions for population control. The policy known as the "Mexico City Policy" bans U.S. taxpayer money from going to international family planning organizations that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion. Anti abortion groups roundly criticized the presidential order. The legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, Douglas Johnson, lamented "President Obama not long ago told the American people that he would support policies to reduce abortions, but today he is effectively guaranteeing more abortions by funding groups that promote abortion as a method of population control". Apparently Obama's campaign mantra "Yes We Can" doesn't apply to policies reducing abortion in the third world. Once again Obama affirms his militant commitment to unrestricted abortion not only in the U.S. but in the rest of the world. This change in US policy doesn’t bode well for those that had hoped Obama would govern from the center and moderate his radical support for abortion on demand.


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