In Obama’s attempt to pander to the evangelical right, once again he offends women by supporting the stereotype that they are frivolous and in need of external control. In an interview with Relevant, a religious magazine, Obama stated:
“…I have repeatedly said that I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don’t think that ‘mental distress’ qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.”
In a follow-up clarification, after some outside grumblings, Obama did concede that “serious clinical mental health diseases” would qualify, but women should not be able to obtain a late-term abortion just because they are “feeling blue.”
As Marie Cocco of the Washington Post observes, “Obama has backhandedly given credibility to the right-wing narrative that women who have abortions—even those who go through the physically and mentally wrenching experience of a late-term abortion—are frivolous and selfish creatures who might perhaps undergo this ordeal because they are ‘feeling blue.’”
So, Obama is now OK with late-term abortions if the woman’s physical health is in serious jeopardy or if she is stark raving bonkers. However, it is important to point out that the meaning of these critical terms are wobbly and soft. Where is the bright line that demarcates “sufficient” physical or mental illness from “insufficient” levels? No physical or mental health professional or biomedical ethicist worth their salt would even attempt to offer strict definitions that would apply in every individual case. In the final analysis, each situation is unique, defying any imposition of rigorous rules by politicians who are rarely medically sophisticated and who don’t know the women, many of whom are frightened and confused teenagers.
But there is more. Who else did Obama leave out? What about women like Gretchen Voss, a healthy, happily married woman of firm mind, eagerly awaiting an impending birth? Except for one thing. It was discovered late that the fetus had multiple defects so serious that the quality of life would be negligible and the expense of life-long intensive care unbearable. Obama apparently has not considered an agonizing decision that can only be made by the mother, her family, and her medical and religious advisors. Read Gretchen’s poignant story here.
Lynda Waddington was also faced with making this heartbreaking decision, and has this to say about what no man could fully understand:
“On one hand, I’d like nothing better than to take Obama’s hand and force him to walk each and every step of that experience with me. I want him to know the bittersweet feel of a child that will never live outside of the womb against his insides. I want him to wake up in the middle of the night and just for a moment know peace before the reality of what’s taken place comes crashing down again… I want him to feel the nation’s war of words in relation to abortion as personally and as raw as I do. I want him to understand that psychological wounds leave horrific scars.
On the other hand, the dismal truth is that I’m not that cruel. Even if I had the ability to force my memories and my experiences on Obama, even if by doing so I could virtually guarantee that he’d never again utter such an ignorant (at best) or politically-motivated (at worst) response… I couldn’t do it. What I’ve experienced is something I’d never wish, much less willingly give, to another person.” Read Lynda’s full story here.
I don’t know anyone–and I most certainly include myself—who is suggesting that the approximately 1% of all abortions that are performed late term should be casual events. But, this cartoon is more about women and their most personal and difficult life decisions and less about abortion, per se. That issue can be argued in other forums.
A final irony: Another Obama flip-flop! As a Harvard-trained lawyer on record for supporting Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, and as one of 19 co-sponsors of the Freedom of Choice Act, Obama should know that this bill would make both Supreme Court cases federal law and that the majority of Doe allows for physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age to be taken into consideration during any stage of pregnancy. (Read more about Obama’s support for the Freedom of Choice Act here.)