June 10, 2008

Obama and Abortion

Obama is a liberal and a Christian. I'm a conservative and Christian and more specifically, a social conservative. He's a democrat and I'm a republican. But I supported his primary run and I intend to vote for him in November.

Nonetheless, I find myself at odds with Obama on social issues such as abortion, and I am troubled with my decision to support him given his position and voting record on the issue. LaShawn Barber jumped right on that particular sore spot today.

"Barack Hussein Obama is an “articulate” infanticide-supporting liberal who doesn’t like being called a liberal....Anyone who believes it’s OK for “doctors” to crush the heads of infants in the birth canal isn’t getting my vote. If you’re black and pro-life but feel “torn” between racial pride about his nomination and disgust for his pro-death stance, shame on you. Get your priorities straight"

She scored a direct hit on my misgivings about Obama and once again I'm wrestling full bore with the decision to support him in November. In the primary, it was one thing. In the general, its another. So I wanted to get some clarity about his stance. Abortion is a shameful and violent act against innocent children. Partial birth abortion is an extreme version of the abortion practice that even the pro-choice repudiate when they understand the procedure, especially variations such as dilation and evacuation.

Obama's website says he will make protecting women's rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as president. On The Issues reports his background on the subject as follows (read from bottom of list, makes more sense):

  • Ok for state to restrict late-term partial birth abortion. (Apr 2008)
  • We can find common ground between pro-choice and pro-life. (Apr 2008)
  • Undecided on whether life begins at conception. (Apr 2008)
  • Teach teens about abstinence and also about contraception. (Apr 2008)
  • GovWatch: Obama's "present" votes were a requested strategy. (Feb 2008)
  • Expand access to contraception; reduce unintended pregnancy. (Feb 2008)
  • Rated 100% by NARAL on pro-choice votes in 2005, 2006 & 2007. (Jan 2008)
  • Voted against banning partial birth abortion. (Oct 2007)
  • Stem cells hold promise to cure 70 major diseases. (Aug 2007)
  • Trust women to make own decisions on partial-birth abortion. (Apr 2007)
  • Extend presumption of good faith to abortion protesters. (Oct 2006)
  • Constitution is a living document; no strict constructionism. (Oct 2006)
  • Pass the Stem Cell Research Bill. (Jun 2004)
  • Protect a woman's right to choose. (May 2004)
  • Supports Roe v. Wade. (Jul 1998)
  • Voted NO on defining unborn child as eligible for SCHIP. (Mar 2008)
  • Voted NO on prohibiting minors crossing state lines for abortion. (Mar 2008)
  • Voted YES on expanding research to more embryonic stem cell lines. (Apr 2007)
  • Voted NO on notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions. (Jul 2006)
  • Voted YES on $100M to reduce teen pregnancy by education & contraceptives. (Mar 2005)
  • Sponsored bill providing contraceptives for low-income women. (May 2006)
  • Rated 0% by the NRLC, indicating a pro-choice stance. (Dec 2006)
  • Ensure access to and funding for contraception. (Feb 2007)
In commenting on LaShawn's post, I reconciled my decision to support Obama despite my vehement objection to his pro-abortion stance on the following grounds:
  1. As President, Obama will have no unilateral power to impose his very liberal views. While SCOTUS selections will be in his domain, those selections must be approved by Congress and the people will have a say and I look to activism with Congress as the check and balance on the potential liberal excesses of an Obama administration.
  2. John McCain for all that he is a conservative, is a republican tied to Bush and the republican party's approaches on the economy, on the war, and on expansion and entrenchment of executive power. I believe a departure from that direction is necessary. Obama will be more willingly accountable to the American people than our current President, and moreso than John McCain.
  3. Obama is a Christian, can understand the Scriptural basis for opposition to abortion, is predisposed and sensitized to the issue and is therefore reachable and teachable on this subject. I believe it is possible to bring Obama closer to us on this issue, certainly moreso than it will be to steer republicans from the path they are taking the country in on the war, the economy and the scope of executive and corporate power.
Some of Obama's most recent statements on the issue of abortion lend some credence to #3:

Teach teens about abstinence and also about contraception

We've actually made progress over the last several years in reducing teen pregnancies, for example. And what I have consistently talked about is to take a comprehensive approach where we focus on abstinence, where we are teaching the sacredness of sexuality to our children.

But we also recognize the importance of good medical care for women, that we're also recognizing the importance of age-appropriate education to reduce risks. I do believe that contraception has to be part of that education process.

And if we do those things, then I think that we can reduce abortions and I think we should make sure that adoption is an option for people out there. If we put all of those things in place, then I think we will take some of the edge off the debate.

We're not going to completely resolve it. At some point, there may just be an irreconcilable difference. And those who are opposed to abortion, I think, should continue to be able to lawfully object and try to change the laws.

Undecided on whether life begins at conception

Q: Do you personally believe that life begins at conception?

A: This is something that I have not come to a firm resolution on. I think it's very hard to know what that means, when life begins. Is it when a cell separates? Is it when the soul stirs? So I don't presume to know the answer to that question. What I know is that there is something extraordinarily powerful about potential life and that that has a moral weight to it that we take into consideration when we're having these debates.

We can find common ground between pro-choice and pro-life

Q: The terms pro-choice and pro-life, do they encapsulate that reality in our 21st Century setting and can we find common ground?

A: I absolutely think we can find common ground. And it requires a couple of things. It requires us to acknowledge that..

  1. There is a moral dimension to abortion, which I think that all too often those of us who are pro-choice have not talked about or tried to tamp down. I think that's a mistake because I think all of us understand that it is a wrenching choice for anybody to think about.
  2. People of good will can exist on both sides. That nobody wishes to be placed in a circumstance where they are even confronted with the choice of abortion. How we determine what's right at that moment, I think, people of good will can differ.
And if we can acknowledge that much, then we can certainly agree on the fact that we should be doing everything we can to avoid unwanted pregnancies that might even lead somebody to consider having an abortion.

Source: 2008 Democratic Compassion Forum at Messiah College Apr 13, 2008

Ok for state to restrict late-term partial birth abortion

On an issue like partial birth abortion, I strongly believe that the state can properly restrict late-term abortions. I have said so repeatedly. All I've said is we should have a provision to protect the health of the mother, and many of the bills that came before me didn't have that.

Part of the reason they didn't have it was purposeful, because those who are opposed to abortion have a moral calling to try to oppose what they think is immoral. Oftentimes what they were trying to do was to polarize the debate and make it more difficult for people, so that they could try to bring an end to abortions overall.

As president, my goal is to bring people together, to listen to them, and I don't think that's any Republican out there who I've worked with who would say that I don't listen to them, I don't respect their ideas, I don't understand their perspective. And my goal is to get us out of this polarizing debate where we're always trying to score cheap political points and actually get things done.

Source: Fox News Sunday: 2008 presidential race interview Apr 27, 2008

I concluded that electing McCain will not secure a sufficient break with the direction the country is going in now. I would rather elect a reasonable and pragmatic Obama and manage his liberal politics, than elect McCain and ensure no significant change in the policies and practice of the presidency.

I drew some comfort from the fact that apparently LaShawn finds herself conflicted as well:

"I can’t not vote. So, on Tuesday, November 4, 2008, I will head to my polling place. What I’ll do after that, I do not know."

Can a pro-life position and a vote for Obama be reconciled? Am I wrong to believe that Obama's Christian understanding means his position can be moved in the direction of the pro-life camp? Is activism with Congress a reliable, adequate venue and mechanism to blunt an Obama administration's liberal tendencies on social issues?