Monday, July 07, 2008

Ponnuru on Obama on Abortion (As of Now)

Ramesh Ponnuru weighs in:
1) Obama and Linda Douglass are obviously revising what he said, not clarifying it. Maybe his words just came out wrong in The Relevant interview—that happens even to famously eloquent people—but the latest remarks contradict the earlier ones. In the initial interview, he said that late-term abortions should be allowed only if the mother had a "serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy." (Incidentally, in 1997 Tom Daschle made a legislative proposal to this effect as an alternative to a ban on partial-birth abortions.) Now he is adding "serious clinical mental-health diseases" to the mix. He is excluding only "feeling blue" as a reason to allow a late-term abortion.

2) Obama says that the Supreme Court has never interpreted Roe to mean that late-term abortions should be allowed just because the woman "feel[s] blue." At best, he is being highly misleading. To review: Roe said that states could prohibit late-term abortions so long as they made an exception for the health of the mother. The Supreme Court handed down Doe v. Bolton on the same day as Roe. Both opinions were written by Justice Harry Blackmun, who said that they were "to be read together." In Doe, Blackmun wrote that health should be viewed "in the light of all factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age—relevant to the well-being of the patient."

As a result of Roe and Doe, abortion has been effectively legalized at any stage of pregnancy. The requirement of a broad health exception is the reason that the number of people prosecuted for committing late-term abortions has been vanishingly small since 1973, even though the vast majority of Americans believe such abortions should be illegal.

3) Obama engaged in a little spin even in the Relevant interview. In the Illinois state legislature he had refused to vote for, and spoken out against, a bill to protect infants who survived abortions. (At some points in the bill's progress he voted "no," at other points "present.") His stand had caused some pro-lifers to label Obama the most pro-abortion candidate ever nominated by a major political party.

He said that the bill was "actually designed to overturn Roe v. Wade," and was not "going to pass constitutional muster." He has said on other occasions that he favored the federal version of the legislation because it included a stipulation that nothing in it would interfere with the right to kill a human being who had not yet been born. This claim is ridiculous. The born-alive bill was never going to "overturn Roe," and the presence or absence of this interpretive clause was never going to make a bit of difference. (And if Obama was using the phrase "pass constitutional muster" to imply a prediction about the fate of the law in the courts, which is how the phrase is often used, then he was wrong.)

4) Based both on his co-sponsorship of the Freedom of Choice Act and his comments on Roe v. Wade, Obama is committed to legal abortion at any stage of pregnancy for essentially any reason, and he wants it subsidized by taxpayers too. Is he the most pro-abortion nominee ever? He at least ties.