The Washington Post reports that President Obama is running his reelection campaign as a "culture warrior," trying to put his opponents on the defensive over issues like requiring religious institutions to pay for contraception and the issue of abortion in the case of rape. But could Obama's extremism on abortion come back to bite him?
During a 2003 press conference, Barack Obama indicated that he thought abortion should be legal in all situations, even late in pregnancy:
OBAMA: “I am pro-choice.” REPORTER: “In all situations including the late term thing?” OBAMA: “I am pro-choice. I believe that women make responsible choices and they know better than anybody the tragedy of a difficult pregnancy and I don’t think that it’s the government’s role to meddle in that choice.”
But over the years, Obama has been shifty on the issue of late-term abortion. As an Illinois state senator, Obama opposed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. The problem, in Obama's own words, was that in some cases the "fetus, or child - however you want to describe it" was "not just coming out limp and dead." Supporters of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act wanted to require doctors to provide medical care to these infants, while Obama wanted to leave it up to the discretion of the abortionist to determine whether these infants had a reasonable chance of sustained life.
But when Obama ran for president in 2008, he said that he supported states' banning late-term abortions so long as the bans contained a "strict" exception for the physical health of the mother. Days later, Obama modified his position, saying he also supported an exception for "serious clinical mental health diseases." Supreme Court reporter Jan Crawford noted at the time that Obama's position was still "startling" because the exceptions Obama claimed to support were narrower than the Supreme Court's 1973 edict in Doe v. Bolton that there must be “emotional, psychological, familial, and ... age" exceptions to late-term abortion bans.
Obama's 2008 endorsement of late-term abortion bans appeared to be in conflict with his support for the Freedom of Choice Act. In 2007, Obama cosponsored the Freedom of Choice Act, which would have struck down all restrictions on abortion at the state and federal level.
The bill stated that all abortions must be legal before "viability" for any reason and that abortions must be legal until birth if a woman's health was at risk. FOCA does not contain a definition of "health," therefore "anything an abortionist says is related to 'health' is sufficient," according to Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee. "A state would not be able to adopt any limiting definition (for example, defining 'health' to exclude emotional distress), because that would be to narrow and infringe on the federally guaranteed right which FOCA would establish. The entire purpose of FOCA is to prohibit any narrowing of the federally guaranteed right -- for example, by requiring parental notification, or by refusing to fund abortions."
In recent years, a number of states have banned abortion around the time when an unborn child can feel pain. But, in contrast to his vocal opposition to state-level legislation such as Arizona's immigration law and Wisconsin's union law, Obama has remained silent on these late-term bans.
When the House of Representatives voted on a late-term abortion ban for the nation's capital this summer, White House press secretary Jay Carney dodged the issue. "Well, I haven’t spoken to the President about this particular piece of legislation," Carney said at a White House press brieifing on July 31, "but the President’s position on a woman’s reproductive freedom is well known." Almost one-month later, the White House has not indicated whether Obama supports or opposes banning abortion when an unborn child can feel pain.