Obama in Iowa On Abortion and Ab-Only

Barack Obama wants to reduce unintended pregnancies and provide comprehensive sex-ed to young people - and he doesn't think running a dog-fighting ring is equivalent to accessing abortion!

Campaigning in Iowa this weekend, Barack Obama responded to questions about abortion and comprehensive sexuality education in a way that may (hopefully) set the tone for a more honest and sincere reproductive health and rights debate this campaign season.

According to The Caucus, the New York Times political blog, the first question posed to Obama confoundingly compared NFL player Michael Vick’s conviction for criminal (not to mention vicious) dog-fighting with women who seek legal abortions. The questioner admitted to just being darned perplexed as to why there has been such a “tremendous outcry against this man because of fighting dogs” and seemed concerned that Vick will “likely lose his livelihood and spend some time in jail” while “On the other hand, we have 34 years and counting where thousands of innocent, sweet babies are being killed every day through what we call abortion, yet that voice has seemingly died out.”

Once again, this man’s comparison reveals the hole in the logic of anti-choice advocates. If one is to compare what Vick did with abortion, women should be prosecuted for accessing abortion just as Vick was prosecuted for dog-fighting. You cannot continue to advocate for criminalizing abortion without criminalizing the women (the majority of whom are mothers) who access abortion.

Obama instantly acknowledged this absurd association: “I reject a comparison between a woman struggling with these issues and Michael Vick fighting dogs for sport [emphasis mine]. I don’t think that’s sort of how people perceive it.” Unless of course you view women who access abortion as brutal and criminal.

Obama goes on to explain that “the women involved are in the best position to make that determination. And I don’t think they make it lightly.”

Unfortunately, Obama also falls into the politically lazy trap of using “partial birth abortion” as the great unifier: “I think there is a large agreement, for example, that late-term abortions are really problematic and there should be a regulation. And it should only happen in terms of the mother’s life or severe health consequences, so I think there is broad agreement on these issues.” Well, no, there isn’t “agreement” on this issue at all. I would like to challenge candidates to strengthen their positions on reproductive rights; in this case by more consistently hammering home the point that particular abortion methods, like a D&X procedure, are methods employed only after a woman consults with her doctor and that this type of medical procedure is not problematic in and of itself if a physician deems it the best procedure to employ with her/his patient. There should be no place at the table for Supreme Court justices to deem legal medical procedures employed by physicians, appropriate or not.

Ultimately, Obama wraps up this part of his speech by wisely talking about the need for family planning and comprehensive sexuality education in the quest to reduce unintended pregnancies. While he unsurprisingly prefaces his remarks about this issue with the requisite “I’m all for encouraging abstinence-only until marriage”, Obama also recognizes that young people “do things regardless of what their parents tell them to do.”

Here’s my aside about the need all of our democratic presidential candidates have to give a little pat on the back to the “abstinence-only until marriage” mantra: What if someone doesn’t get married until they’re forty-years old? Are you really advocating for adults to remain abstinent for the bulk of their adult lives? What about monogamous couples that choose not to marry? And what about gay and lesbian adults? Are they supposed to remain abstinent forever or just until they enter into a civil union in certain states? Or maybe there should be a legally recognized period of time that adults need to be in a relationship before they are allowed to engage in sanctioned sexual relations? As a parent, I’d like to see support from our entire society from the media to our schools to health care practitioners for encouraging young people to develop healthy self images (which include a healthy relationship to their sexuality). This, in turn, will allow them to make the best decisions for their health and lives. I’m not interested in pushing a global message to young people that their sexuality may only be experienced and recognized after they’ve entered into a contract available only to certain members of our society.

But back to Barack. He goes on to say, “I don’t want my daughters ending up in really difficult situations because I didn’t communicate to them, how to protect themselves if they make a mistake. I think we’ve got to have that kind of comprehensive view that says family planning and education for our young people and so forth – to prevent teen pregnancies, to prevent the kinds of situations that lead to women having to struggle with these difficult decisions and we should be supportive of those efforts. That’s an area where there should be some agreement.”

It’s an admirable stance but I’m not sure you’ll find much agreement from those who advocate for abstinence-only policies: The anti-choice LifeNews.com extracted this from Barack Obama’s speech: “He made it clear he has no interest in limiting or reducing abortions and his pro-abstinence stance is tempered by his backing of sexual education.”

Barack Obama, however, has shown his commitment to addressing this one area of reproductive rights for women by supporting numerous initiatives designed to focus on prevention, like the Prevention First Act of 2007 and the Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act.