Political Hay

Obama’s Phony Health Exception

The Democratic nominee's unhealthy support for abortion on demand.

By 10.23.08

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John McCain took Barack Obama to the pro-life woodshed during the final presidential debate in mid-October. It was a long over-due thrashing and a welcome respite from an otherwise snoozer of an interchange. It's caused the mainstream media and liberal blogosphere to have collective conniptions, meaning the Arizona senator got dangerously close to tender territory that the pro-abortion movement would rather avoid.

McCain's cardinal sin began when he brought up two of Obama's votes in the Illinois Senate -- the first against a born alive infant protection act, the second against a state-level partial-birth abortion ban. In the latter case, Obama responded that he would have supported the ban if it had contained an exception for the mother's health. (Obama also threw in a point about finding "common ground" on abortion, which apparently looks like this).

McCain responded that the health exception has been "stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything." The remark was accurate, but the Left wasted no time in pouncing on McCain's position and particularly his use of "air quotes" in referring to women's health.

MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews (who appears to have become the networks go-to "straight news" reporter, along with Keith Olbermann) said that McCain made "a big mistake" on the issue. "You can't belittle the health exception with regard to abortion," he said.

The liberal blogs took it even further. In a post entitled "Dear John McCain," one self-proclaimed "foul-mouthed liberal" blogger wrote, "You really are a small-minded anti-choice hater of women … F**k you, Senator McCain."

Of course, most of the pontificating missed the key issue: how have the courts defined the health exception for late-term abortions? Does it "mean almost anything," as McCain said?

We already know where Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocacy groups stand. Abortion should be legal through all nine months of pregnancy, for any reason. That's in contrast to the latest opinion polls on the topic. The vast majority of Americans favor at least some restrictions on the procedure.

What about the courts? As McCain correctly stated, the health exception has been interpreted broadly. In Doe v. Bolton, a decision handed down the same day as Roe v. Wade in January 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that the "medical judgment may be exercised in light of all factors -- physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age -- relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health."

That's the kind of vague language to which McCain referred. In this instance, the issue is not about abortions performed to save the life of the mother or because of life-endangering health risks. Americans support abortion options in those situations. Rather, it's about a broadly defined meaning of "health" that places the convenience of the living above the life of the unborn.

Abortion advocates gloss over that fact because it doesn't poll well. Americans oppose abortions for convenience. Yet Doe leaves the door open for late-term abortions for a host of reasons, including convenience. If bringing the unborn child to term would emotionally harm a woman, she can have an abortion. If her family situation is unstable, she can have an abortion. If having a child would cause psychological stress, she can have an abortion. No limits.

That, by the way, is why pro-life lawmakers refused to insert a health exception in the federal partial-birth abortion ban. Under Doe, it would have made the ban meaningless since a woman would only have to prove emotional or psychological stress to qualify. Does that outweigh the life of the unborn child?

That was McCain's premise. The disagreement is not over health hazards, but convenience. Unfortunately, the point got drowned in a deluge of abortion industry sound bites calling him a woman hater, a tactic the pro-abortion movement thrives on. Anyone who questions the health exception is demonized as anti-woman, yet abortion advocates shy away when asked to define exactly what health means.

If the courts defined the exception to apply only when a pregnancy poses serious or life-threatening health risks, I doubt McCain would quibble. But abortion advocates won't stand for that. In contrast to the beliefs of the majority of Americans, their support is for unequivocal abortion-on-demand, and the phony health exception is a key underpinning.

Funny how the health of the 25 million (or so) unborn females who have been aborted since 1973 never factors into the argument.

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About the Author
David N. Bass is a journalist who writes from the Old North State. Follow him on Twitter.