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August 12, 2008

Obama's Squandered Opportunity on Abortion -- and How He Could Turn It Around

Earlier today I listened in on a phone press conference with leading pro-life religious liberals called by Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners. (Click here to listen to the call.) They were praising the new draft Democratic Party abortion plank which advocates government policies to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies. (Click here to read the new plank and the 2004 platform). Wallis called it a "real step forward," while Rev. Joel Hunter called it "a historic and courageous step."

What am I missing? It seems to me that, on balance, if you're pro-life this platform is about the same as the 2004 platform -- slightly better in some ways and, actually, slightly worse in other ways.

Where it's better: the draft platform endorses policies, such as better sex education and health care, that would "help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby reduce the need for abortions." And, religious progressives were particularly pleased that the platform stated: "The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child," as well as policies -- such as "caring adoption programs" -- that make such a choice practical.

Where it's worse: the platform actually drops the language from the 2004 platform that abortion "should be safe, legal, and rare." That breakthrough formulation, popularized by Bill Clinton, reiterated support for legal abortion but rhetorically endorsed the idea that society would be better off with fewer abortions. By contrast, the 2008 platform emphasizes the goal of reducing unintended pregnancies and the "need" for abortions. It's a subtle but important difference that preserves what pro-choice activists wanted: absolute neutrality on the question of whether society is better off with fewer abortions.

Some of the religious leaders are hoping that Obama personally will go farther than the platform did. "Key is what Obama says at Saddleback," says Rev. Tony Campolo, a leading religious progressive and a member of the Democratic Platform committee, referring to Obama's public interview with Rev. Rick Warren this weekend. "What we are waiting to hear is that he sees this as a moral issue." In other words, we're supposed to look at the draft platform plank as Act One of a two act play.

Indeed, I can envision a way in which the Democratic Party could make real headway with pro-life voters, despite Obama's very pro-choice voting record. At Saddleback, Obama could make a strong statement that he thinks there should be fewer abortions in America and - here's the new part - the Democratic Party will be better at reducing the number of abortions than Republicans.

This may sound far fetched but it might actually be true under certain conditions. The Republicans have focused on legal restrictions - but mostly what they propose is either substantively sweeping but unpopular, or popular but substantively marginal. They support a Constitutional amendment to ban all abortion, which certainly would reduce the number of abortions in theory, but hasn't come close to passage in decades. They support banning partial birth abortion which could be passed but affects less than 1% of abortions. And they have an ideological aversion to certain additional steps -- such as encouragin birth control and more government-financed health care for women -- that could help reduce the number of abortions.

Studies show that many women have abortions because of economic reasons so it's plausible that abortion frequency could be reduced through an agenda that focused on preventing unintended pregnancies (through family planning and birth control) , improving health care and wages for low income women, and encouraging adoption. Jim Wallis hailed the "Juno option": some teens who get pregnant should neither get an abortion nor get married but rather should carry the baby to term and then give it up for adoption.

So Obama could address pro-life voters directly and say something like this:

The Republican party uses you every four years to get elected. But they don't deliver on their goal of substantially reducing the number of abortions. They prefer symbolism to results -- demonizing Democrats to saving babies. It's time for a new approach. This new approach will make it less likely women would get pregnant. For those who do get pregnant, it will make it easier for them to have the baby. And for those who can't or dont want to raise the child, it will make it easier for them to find adoptive parents.

Let me be clear. I'm not retreating one inch from my commitment to the legal right to choose. It is because abortion is such a profound moral dilemma that it must be made a woman in consultation with her clergy person, her doctor and, yes, hopefully the father of the child. It is her decision. What we can do as a society is to make sure the deck isn't so stacked against her that she feels pressured to have an abortions.

If we take this approach, I believe we can cut the number of abortions in America in half -- and I will commit to making this a major goal of my presidency. It's time to break out of the old approach on abortion that uses this as a political football. It's time to try a new way that protects a woman's right to choose -- but helps society dramatically reduce the number of abortion.

Obama has mostly adopted the value-neutral language of the pro-choice community. On a few occasions - mostly when addressing Christian audiences - he's changed his rhetoric, talking about abortion reduction as a goal unto itself. If he wants to win over moderate evangelicals he's going to need to enthusiastically embrace the abortion reduction language here on out. Politically, this means telling the pro-choice community: I'm with you on legal restrictions, but you need to accept that I'm going to campaign against abortion.

Would this approach actually win over all pro-life voters? No. Some will never vote for a pro-choice politician. And the Obama campaign has so far done a terrible job at responding to the single most important abortion charge against him, that he opposed the "born alive" legislation in Illinois that would have protected the lives of fetuses or babies that survived abortions.

But there are a large number of voters -- moderate evangelicals and centrist Catholic -- who support the Democratic Party position on almost every other issue. They are itching to vote based on Iraq, the economy and health care. Each time they sidle up to Obama they trip over the charge that he's a pro-choice radical. The Obama campaign has not come close to showing him to be anything other than that. It's not too late, but the platform plank was one opportunity squandered. The next big opportunity is his speech at Saddleback Church. If he doesn't significantly improve on the platform language and cast himself as a champion of an energetic, plausible, specific pro-choice abortion reduction agenda, he's not likely to do much better than John Kerry in winning evangelicals or Catholics.

This article is cross-posted from Steve Waldman's blog at Beliefnet.

Comments

Steve Waldman's proposal makes sense; it fits with things Obama has said in the past. While Bayh, Biden, and the like could probably adapt themselves to this approach, it would gain extra strength and appeal if Obama chose a Vice-Presidential candidate whose heart would be in this approach: former Representative Tim Roemer of Indiana, Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia, Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado, etc.

It is so sad that Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo haven't had the courage to tell Senator Obama that abortion is a moral issue. If Wallis is sincere about wiping out poverty, then he needs to tell Obama to end the welfare state and to speak boldly about hard work and personal responsibility. Obama's biggest weakness is his lack of moral leadership. He has potential, but alas, he is a politician first and a Christian second. As you know there is another election in 4 short years and we must position ourselves to remain in power.

If Obama were to do a 180-degree turnaround on abortion and partial-birth abortion, it would probably be due to political expediency. He supported partial-birth abortion for years, and actively squelched legislation to protect babies who somehow survive the PBA procedure of death at birth. His wife feels as strongly as he does on this matter.

His track record on this and his boast to the homosexual magazine The Advocate that he would be “the most pro-homosexual presidential candidate ever” are the evidence of the fruits of what he calls his Christianity. I would not trust a major change on this by Obama.

Steve Waldman of BeliefNet, the author of this article, appears to care more about promoting Obama’s presidency than he does about following Scripture.

I read Steve Waldman's proposal with great amusment and a question popped up in my mind when he offered that "Obama could address pro-life voters directly and say something like this..."

I kept asking myself, after Obama said "something like this", would he be simply playing to the gallery or would that be what he actually believed. You see, it appears to me that Steve Waldman is not really interested in truth, just politics, which by definition, is saying something that you do not necessarily believe, just as long as you get the vote in.

I have been a voter long enough to know that what Steve Waldham is asking Obama to do is not right, but it is politic. Obana could hide behind nice sounding words, which he is more than capable of doing, and try to hide his real feelings on abortion, or he could talk to people in plain english, which he is clearly unable to do, and tell them what he actually believes or feels about abortion.

But then he would not win the "evangelical" vote now would he?

For whom would you rather vote Mr. Waldman, an honest, sincere person of his/her word with whom you disagreed on some positions, or someone who twisted his/her real position just to get your vote?

Let me throw in another question for you Mr. Waldman, which Hillary should Obama believe, the one who two months ago believed he was not qualified to "answer the White House phone at 2:00 a.m." or the one who now says she believes he is? After you have answered that, answer this, is Hillary the politician you want Obama to become?

When I hear rhetoric about abortion, I like to substitute the word "slavery" in as a gut-check. It works especially well because the arguments for and against are virtually identical, and because I just recently watched "Amazing Grace." I'm pretty sure that in that movie, a politician declaring his desire to address the "need for slavery" would rightfully look every bit as slimy as the one who declared that he was troubled by slavery, but felt they needed to first discuss the potential economic ramifications before restricting it.

An additional point: while Obama could rightfully claim that the Republicans haven't made a lot of progress in banning abortion, he'd have to gloss over the fact that this is because they are stopped by the courts. I think we all know that Obama would ensure that this particular bulwark would remain in place for several more decades.

It is so sad to hear one person telling another person how to be a hypocrite. I would rather run across a snake that looked like a snake than to find one that looked like an innocent jump rope and see a child die because of it. I wish politicians would spend less time choosing their words so as not to reveal their true morals or lack thereof. Say what you want to about George Bush, but he had the guts to lay it out about the things he believed in and was willing to put his approval or disapproval on and he wasn't shifty in his convictions. And incidentally, I am a Democrat. But first of all I am a Christian and believe Christians ought to get their morals from the Bible, not the movies or newspaper or some godless philosopher.
Why would anyone elect someone who has mostly a tract record of words, not actions?You can say anything. Talk is cheap. But then, let me watch you and see what you do, then I'll know what you really believe,
Obama wants to get elected before he does anything -- or has a history or tract record. Maybe he would be a good leader, but let him prove himself first on another level before becoming the head of the most powerful government in the world. Children want to be firemen. But we let them grow up first and take the training to be a fireman. Obama hasn't done anything to prove he can lead the U.S. He hasn't been trained to take the heat of leadership. He has thin skin. He didn't vote in the Senate when he thought the vote would cost him some popularity. What really tough thing has he done? He has a pretty face and smile, but how do we know he won't crumble and stumble in office? He has never been in the military and now he wants to be the commander in chief? He has never run a corporation but now he wants to be in charge of the largest corporation in the world? The young, the new Americans, the poor see no problem with that, because they don't know any more about all those things than he does. They just think he makes cool speeches and has a pretty face. God help us.

Obama is a total sell out to Planned Parenthood, ACLU, NARAL, NOW, Americans United for Sepration of Church and State, PFLAG, Equality, Lambda Legal, and all the homosexual organizations that are attempting to reshape America. These organizations are the sworn enemies of the Kingdom of God. The only way any Christian cannot see these facts is to close their eyes, or to be blinded by darkness. I know that Wallis, Campolo, and most Black pastors have done this out of intentional ignorance.
Go to these websites to get the facts:
www.audacityofhypocrisy.com
www.nohussein.com
Do your homework brothers and sisters. You have a duty to seek the truth, which Wallis, Campolo and the other leftists are not doing. Do NOT trust the media or their lackeys!
At least McCain does not make things up to win support from folks who should by intrinsic values oppose him.
McCain is the only viable option now.

For heaven's sake. Pro-life Christians (which still sounds redundant to me) don't just want Obama to declare abortion a moral issue. Any morally sane person with a modicum of honesty must acknowledge this and speak of it in these terms when referring to it. What we want the "Christian" Obama to say is that abortion is evil and that the government must not make legal something evil. The law is a moral instructor (gay-affirming advocates understand this), and so Christians (those pro-life ones) would say, yes, we certainly would like abortions to be more rare, but that is not the only purpose of our opposition to legalized abortion (that's too utilitarian). The law instructs, and when it says it is legal to tear apart the child in the womb, it sends the additional message that it is okay to do so. This not only destroys a life, but it also infects the soul of all participating. Sin is destructive enough when consented to, but when we begin to call evil good, that's when our souls are imperiled. Finally, I still cannot get over Christians even considering supporting someone so pro-abortion as Obama because he is more in line with other concerns. I can hear the German Evangelical saying, "Hitler's position on demonizing and exterminating the Jews is unfortunate, but he's done so much for the poor and downtrodden German after our humiliation after the Great War!" What am I missing here? First things first!