Sunday, June 17, 2012

Quote of the Day (The White House, on Sex-Selection Abortion)

“The Administration opposes gender discrimination in all forms, but the end result of this legislation would be to subject doctors to criminal prosecution if they fail to determine the motivations behind a very personal and private decision.  The government should not intrude in medical decisions or private family matters in this way.”—White House deputy press secretary Jamie Smith, statement to ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper, quoted in Jake Tapper, “Legislation About Gender Selection and Abortion — Today’s Q for O’s WH– 5/30/2012


The Obama administration nods toward opponents of abortion—yes, we “oppose gender discrimination in all forms”; yes, we believe in the value of life—until push comes to shove. Then, it is another matter.

Taken by itself, the administration’s stance on funding of birth control by religious institutions (with the burden of payment now shifted to insurance providers rather than religious institutions themselves) might appear, as the administration claims, a good-faith compromise. But there is, of course, a wider context. The administration objects to intrusion or “coercion” when it comes to a medical provider, as in the case of sex-selection abortion, but not when it comes to a religious group—which, in instances when they self-insure, will be forced to foot the bill for medical procedures they cannot morally support.

Of all the reasons for abortion, sex selection may provoke the most moral qualms, not just among the electorate at large but even among liberals sympathetic to abortion. This has only annoyed the pro-choice movement to no end. Fairly typical is the response of Allison Benedikt who, in an article for Slate, not only contends that “it’s entirely irrelevant why a woman wants an abortion,” but also that, for those uneasy about the issue, “Gulp for a second if you must, then get over it.”

Gulp…then get over it. It is only one step removed from the statement by Time Magazine writer Nina Burleigh, at the height of the Clinton impeachment crisis:  “I’d be happy to give him [oral sex] to thank him for keeping abortion legal.”

Some years ago, when I was part of a  political-science book club, our moderator asked if we wanted to read a book dealing with abortion. “No,” one member said. “I don’t care to read or discuss that subject at all.” But four decades after Roe v. Wade, despite endless attempts by the media to marginalize any opponents for any form of the procedure as clinic-killers, fanatics, or simply members of a "war on women," there is no sign that the debate on abortion is abating. 

Unlike same-sex marriage, where there has been a pronounced shift in public opinion in less than half that time, the electorate remains deeply divided on the issue. The Obama administration’s decision not to consider even the slightest limit to abortion will not remove that issue from the public square; in fact, it might only increase the anger and tensions revolving around it.

Don’t imagine that Obama, the most cautious of politicians, hasn’t precisely weighed the pluses and minuses of restricting abortion in even the most morally objectionable of circumstances. On the one hand: the Catholic bishops, a hierarchy already politically tone-deaf and fantastically easy to depict as patriarchal, now also morally compromised even before its own flock because of the sexual-abuse scandal, and who thus have more limited power than ever to sway votes on abortion; on the other hand, the pro-choice movement, which, every bit as much as the Catholic Church, will not allow deviation on this stand, and will undoubtedly provide neither funds nor shock troops in what promises to be a difficult re-election campaign for the President.

Guess who Obama won’t risk offending? Can you think of any better reason why he helped scotch the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act at the end of May?

Many Democratic voters of Catholic faith will vote for the President because they don’t believe Mitt Romney will reform Wall Street or do anything to curb the lunatic fringe of his party on anything related to immigration, global warming, or matters of war and policy. But a myriad of issues confront any voter, and Obama should not believe that Catholic voters will go to the polls free of qualms about the administration’s abortion position. 

If nothing else, the administration’s stance against banning sex selection means that there are no conceivable circumstances in which they will ban any form of abortion—not for partial births, not for sex selection. And if that holds true in the United States, why not also for elsewhere in the world that might receive American funding for population control?

This is a President so used to making moral distinctions, according to a recent New York Times report, that he personally selects targets for a "kill list" by drone attack.Yet when it comes to the unborn running the risk of termination, there are no moral distinctions for him: they all die.

Nor should the administration rest easy in believing that they are simply acting in a longstanding party tradition of broad expansion of rights for all. Their own history should make them much more humble in the belief that they are always on the side of the angels. While Andrew Jackson’s Democratic Party supported a broad expansion of the franchise in the 19th century, it also dispossessed Native-Americans of their lands and allied with southern slaveholders. In the 20th century, it supported the rights of labor but were decades late in supporting civil rights for African-Americans.

Viewed in that light, progressive counsels against single-issue voters ring a little hollow. President Obama might have felt uncomfortable about fielding the ban on sex-selection abortion proposed by Republicans, but unlike in state legislatures, history doesn’t offer Presidents the option of deciding which issues he can vote “present” on without taking sides.

Will the President pay at the polls for his stance on banning sex-selection abortion? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. But the unborn surely will. 

(White House photo of Barack Obama in his first press conference as President)

No comments: