Remember when President Bill Clinton said he wanted abortion to be safe, legal and rare? Remember how he was pro-lifers' favorite president? Oh wait, that's right, the "safe, legal and rare" formulation isn't a pro-life mantra but a pro-choice mantra. And Bill Clinton fit perfectly in the pro-choice camp. But somehow when President Barack Obama says something along the same lines, we are to believe that he is no longer one of the most articulate advocates of abortion ever to ascend to the White House but, rather, a lightbearing pro-lifer? Time magazine's Amy Sullivan has a headline up right now that says:
This is because he created a council -- a faith-based "advisory council" -- that will look at, among other things, "reducing the need for abortions."
Yes, with his campaign promise to Planned Parenthood that his first priority as president would be the passage of a bill removing any state-based restrictions on abortion, with his move in the first week to fund international groups that perform abortions and with his 100 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America, I'm pretty sure that headline sums it up. Fighting any restriction on abortion is the new "pro-life"! Princeton professor Robert P. George calls the notion "delusional" and I'm pretty sure pro-lifers in general would be willing to trade President Obama's actual record and actions for that advisory council.
Remember those less complicated times when "pro-life" meant you opposed abortion and "pro-choice" meant you supported abortion rights? Well, President Obama is shooting for a new political paradigm where opposition to any restriction on abortion + support for increased government spending along the lines of what liberals normally support = a new category of abortion reduction. I certainly understand why President Obama would want to push that storyline but it would be nice to have the media exercise a bit of caution before running with it.
Mark Stricherz wrote about the issue during the campaign, noting that government funding of abortion increases rather than decreases the abortion rate. He alleged that while government can promote policies that reduce abortion, they are very expensive. I'm not sure that after we get done borrowing and spending trillions of dollars on these "stimilus" and "bailout" bills that there would be any reasonable amount of money left to experiment with the "abortion reduction" theory.
Other pro-lifers have noted that Obama opposes the Hyde Amendment, legislation that has to be renewed each year to protect taxpayers from paying for abortions. The Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood's research arm, says the most tragic result of this amendment is that women who would otherwise get abortions end up having their children. They say that some 18 to 35 percent of women who would abort their children don't do it when taxpayer funding for abortion is unavailable. Others give a conservative estimate of 1 million children who were not aborted because of this amendment.
And University of Alabama professor Michael New has published studies showing that legal restrictions on abortion, such as public funding restrictions and informed consent laws, are responsible for declines in the abortion rate.
In other words, while Obama and his supporters say that you can oppose any restriction on abortion and support bigger government programs and that this combination means you support "abortion reduction," there's a lot of debate over whether that's a reasonable claim to make.
It sort of seems like some in the mainstream media have just lost all of their cynicism and desire to hold elected officials accountable -- traits they had in abundant supply even weeks ago. Take this puffy piece from Politico, about how awesome Obama and his religious outreach is:
Faith leaders say they are already seeing results. Most notably, Obama lifted the ban on federal funding for overseas abortion services, but he did it quietly and privately, heeding advice from the religious community not to follow the example of his two predecessors by tackling the issue on the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Instead, he waited until the next day to sign the memorandum.
Waiting a few hours to fund groups that perform abortions is a "result" to crow about? Of course, contra this story, Obama lifted the ban on funding of groups that perform abortions rather than on the direct funding of the abortions themselves.
Let's head over to Rob Stein's piece in the Washington Post, headlined Obama Tries to Appease Both Sides of Abortion Debate. It's a solid story all about how Obama is trying to change the debate over abortion from its legality to his claim that certain government spending programs can reduce "the need for" abortions. The article is built around the Obama paradigm-shifting efforts but it's not a puff piece:
Obama's approach has already been tested: Three days after his inauguration, he lifted a ban on U.S. funding for international health programs that provide abortions and abortion counseling, and last week he persuaded House Democrats to drop from the stimulus package a plan to allow Medicaid to expand contraceptive services.
Both moves produced mixed results: The international funding decision thrilled family-planning proponents but infuriated abortion opponents, even though some praised Obama for doing it quietly and for postponing the announcement one day to avoid the 36th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide. The decision to back off the Medicaid family-planning expansion was welcomed by some conservatives but surprised and disappointed women's health advocates.
Again, this trumpeting of the hours-long wait -- can this be for real? And I'm not entirely sure that Obama's pressure on the condom package IN A SUPPOSED STIMULUS BILL should really even fall into this debate. The outrage over Rep. Nancy Pelosi's $200 million for contraception was more about whether such a provision belonged in a "stimulus" bill rather than whether contraceptive services were good or bad or appropriate for government funding in general.
Still, the story lays out the fault lines pretty well:
Obama's approach will be tested again by a series of upcoming decisions on sensitive issues, including how he deals with the Bush administration's restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, which is controversial because the cells are obtained by destroying human embryos. Obama is also under pressure to reverse a Bush administration regulation protecting the rights of health-care workers who object to providing abortion, the morning-after emergency contraceptive pill and other types of medical care, to take steps to increase access to contraception and abortion, and to cut funding for abstinence-only sex education.
It's really nice -- refreshing even -- to see this reporter clearly explain why embryonic stem cell research is disliked by pro-lifers. Remember how reporters use to lump embryo-destroying research with all other stem cell research? It's also helpful to see what the two sides will be battling over. He mentions a likely upcoming Supreme Court justice nomination, too.
And there's more on how Obama waited a few hours before sending funds to groups that provide abortions:
When he took office, he was expected to immediately reverse the international family-planning policy, but instead of doing so on the Roe v. Wade anniversary, Obama used the day to issue his first statement as president on abortion -- a statement that included similar conciliatory language.
Said Joel C. Hunter, pastor of the evangelical Northland Church near Orlando: "I'm pro-life. I hate abortion. But this administration is trying to be very sensitive. They are trying to approach things in the least inflammatory, least contentious way so we can work together and have a more nuanced approach."
But the story also includes the perspective of pro-lifers who fail to see how this is in any way noteworthy:
"The common ground Obama seeks for the pro-life movement is the burial ground," said Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee.
Even some of those taking a wait-and-see approach dismissed Obama's low-key reversal of the international family-planning restriction as meaningless.
"For me, it's the difference between killing you in broad daylight and me taking you out and killing you behind the barn," said Daniel Akin, president of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. "The result is the same. And I'm one of the evangelicals willing to give him a chance."
The story gets quite a bit of perspective from religious opponents of abortion including Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on how Obama could attempt to moderate his support for research on embryos without compromising his principles.
It's actually a really helpful introduction to the two sides, although it does give a bit of short shrift to pro-choice activists who loathe the whole "abortion reduction" moralizing.
My big beef with these stories, though, is that they just sort of assume that increased government spending and programs -- on, say, increasing contraceptive availability, expanding health care benefits or subsidizing day care -- are undeniable methods of reducing the need for abortion. There is a correlation between poverty and abortion (and wealth and contraceptive use) but a) correlation is not causation and b) there are many economists who disagree that many federal welfare programs achieve their stated goals in any case. We've been warring on poverty for a long time now without altogether that much success and it's not a universally accepted belief that government spending is the best way to tackle economic problems. Anyway, how many of these "abortion reduction" proposals are different from the legislative agenda of the left for the past several decades? Is this just dressing up old proposals with a new selling line? Does that matter?