Sunday, October 31, 2010
President Obama has, as we know, been campaigning hard to try and rouse support for Democratic candidates in the mid-term elections taking place this Tuesday. Last month, at a “backyard” meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the President was asked why he was a Christian and what he thought about the absence of legal restrictions on abortion. A video of the exchange can be found here and a transcript here.
As to the first question President Obama noted that his mother and grandparents hadn’t raised him going to church. Instead, he became a Christian as an adult “by choice”: "I came to my Christian faith later in life, and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead – being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me.” He also said that his public service is “part of that effort to express my Christian faith.”
The President has spoken of his Christian faith in the past, but to no avail. We can all hope that this will put an end to the scurrilous efforts to portray Mr. Obama as a Muslim for political purposes. (Followers of Islam and members of other minority religions are of course as free as any other American to seek and hold elective office, though the times and tenor of the nation make a Muslim commander-in-chief unlikely in the foreseeable future). Regardless of what one thinks of the wisdom of the President’s policies, his remarks should be taken at face value as the sincere statement of a believing Christian. As such, however, it is also proper to critically review the President’s actions in light of the faith he professes.
As to the second question President Obama assured the audience that “there are laws both federal, state and constitutional that are in place” that “there are a whole host of laws on the books that after a certain period, the interests shift such that you can have some restrictions, for example, on late term abortions, and appropriately so. So there is in fact a set of rules in place.”
Here the President is guilty of some substantial embellishment concerning the number and extent of laws restricting the abortion license. The fact of the matter is that there are no enforceable laws that directly prohibit the choice of abortion at any time during pregnancy.
The President is also guilty of conspicuously omitting the fact that as a legislator and presidential candidate he opposed the very restrictions on late term abortions that he now describes as “appropriate.” See here, here, here and here.
The President also insisted that we should all recognize that abortion involves a “difficult sometimes, oftentimes tragic situation that families are wrestling with.” Thus, repeating the words of his predecessor Bill Clinton, Obama said that abortion ought to be “safe, legal and rare.”
This has always struck me as an especially odd statement to come from those who believe that the right to abortion is an enormously important constitutional right – a “fundamental” right, like the right to freedom of speech. Why should something so important, so precious, be “rare”? We don’t say this about any other fundamental right. We certainly don’t suggest that we should “rarely” exercise the right to free speech, or the “rarely” exercise the freedom to worship, or “rarely” exercise the right to vote. We don’t say that occasions when we exercise the right to buy and sell property or the right to travel should be seldom or few and far between.
Why the difference? Why should the right to abortion – the cherished freedom to terminate a pregnancy – be any different? To put the matter in the other language employed by President Obama, what makes abortion “difficult” even “tragic”?
To say that abortion should be “rare” or that it is “tragic” because it involves the loss of “potential life” falls flat. It doesn’t seem to account for the gravity of the act and how it is experienced. Indeed, those who claim that the unborn child is only “potential life” also say that sperm and ova are also “potential life” yet they do not say that the use of contraceptives should be “rare” or that the decision to use contraception is “difficult” let alone “tragic.”
A more honest response would be that many women experience the decision to choose abortion as “tragic” – indeed, wrenching and full of anguish – because they know in their hearts that they are choosing to kill their own children, something they know even as the purveyors of abortion services lie to them about the humanity of the victim. (For undercover films documenting these lies at two Planned Parenthood clinics in Indianapolis and Milwaukee, see here and here).
President Obama doesn’t acknowledge this fact – perhaps because it would be politically dangerous to do so, perhaps for fear that such an honest conversation would expose the flawed premises upon which the current regime of legal abortion stands. So in saying that abortion should be “rare” President Obama like President Clinton before him, leaves anyone paying attention scratching his or her head and asking “Why should it be rare?” In the absence of any frank discussion of the question the President’s statement does and should strike the listener as an artifice of political calculation designed to convince others of the speaker’s moderation rather than evidence the sincere, considered judgment of serious reflection.