Thursday, January 8, 2009

abortion and Obama

Excerpts from Joseph Bottum's recent piece in First Things...

...the 2008 election has brought us the presidency of Barack Obama, the most consistent supporter of legalized abortion ever nominated by a major party. And that does seem to give more bite to the claim that the political battle over abortion is finished. If pro-life voters can’t defeat a candidate who rejected even the Illinois version of the Born-Alive Act—legislation designed precisely to force supporters of abortion into an untenable and unpopular position—then they can’t defeat anyone.

That overstates it quite a bit. There are more issues than abortion-- and Bush's various failures trumped whatever pop that life issues have with the electorate.

On abortion, Obama is the complete man, his support so ingrained that even his carefully controlled public speaking can’t help revealing it. He’s not a fanatic about abortion; he’s what lies beyond fanaticism. He’s the end product of hard-line support for abortion: a man for whom the very question of abortion seems unreal. The opponents of abortion are, for Obama, not to be compromised with or even fought with, in a certain sense. They are, rather, to be explained away as a sociological phenomenon—their pro-life view something that will wither away as they gradually come to understand the true causes of the economic and social bitterness they have, in their undereducated and intolerant way, attached to abortion.

A very interesting paragraph! But will this be the (last) high-water mark for abortion? It can be good news when the foil is so solid-- as Obama is, apparently, on abortion. And with science pointing people toward life, we may look back at this as abortion's ill-fated last stand.

Now, on the extremes we can expect from Obama on abortion policy:

The result is already clear, with an announcement from Obama’s transition team, only days after the election, that the new president will remove all restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research immediately on taking office. The Mexico City policy (which requires all groups that receive federal funds not to perform or promote abortion abroad) will disappear the first day, as well....The Freedom of Choice Act currently before Congress is as extreme a measure as the nation has ever seen, invalidating for the entire country all restrictions on abortion before viability, including parental notification, waiting periods, and partial-birth abortion bans. Obama was one of its sponsors in the Senate, and in July he announced at a Planned Parenthood event that “the first thing I’d do, as president, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act.”...Certainly he will invest no energy in stopping Congress from overturning the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion....

What about the Republican response...

Confronting this situation, the Republican party needs to listen to those who advise it not to dismiss the life issues. Many things contributed to the Democrats’ victories in 2006 and 2008, but opposition to abortion simply wasn’t one of them. The pro-life voters were, in fact, the one group that stayed consistently with the Republicans....

Bottum is both too optimistic and too pessimistic here. There is no reason for the GOP to discard pro-lifers. But pro-lifers will be hard-pressed to get more from the GOP than lip service-- even easier to deliver when they're in a substantial minority. After all, the GOP tolerated taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood for years-- only rising to deal with it when they had lost majority power.

Bottom's conclusion is not optimistic enough:

We are, more or less, back where we were in 1992. Better off, in some ways: The intellectual argument against Roe is now far more robust and complete, for example. But worse off, in other ways: Barack Obama is no Bill Clinton, and even Clinton’s mantra of “safe, legal, and rare,” devoid as it was of practical effect, remains beyond Obama....

Again, we're clearly better off in terms of science and demographics. And Obama's bald approach to the topic may well play to the long-term advantage of life in America.


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