Abortion has become the latest issue where Obama has attempted a maladroit move to the center. In an interview with a Christian magazine, he said:
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.
He also tries to spin his vote against a bill in the Illinois legislature that extended legal protection to children who survive botched abortions. But Obama’s comments on “mental distress” being an invalid health exception to a late-term abortion ban go against the standard set by Doe v. Bolton, the companion case to Roe v. Wade. It also contradicts Obama’s co-sponsorship and continued support of the Freedom of Choice Act, which would among other things essentially codify the Roe/Doe regime, including requiring mental-health exceptions that would render most late-term abortion bans essentially meaningless.
My only point is this — historically I have been a strong believer in a women’s right to choose with her doctor, her pastor and her family. And it is ..I have consistently been saying that you have to have a health exception on many significant restrictions or bans on abortions including late-term abortions.
In the past there has been some fear on the part of people who, not only people who are anti-abortion, but people who may be in the middle, that that means that if a woman just doesn’t feel good then that is an exception. That’s never been the case.
I don’t think that is how it has been interpreted. My only point is that in an area like partial-birth abortion having a mental, having a health exception can be defined rigorously. It can be defined through physical health, it can be defined by serious clinical mental-health diseases. It is not just a matter of feeling blue. I don’t think that’s how pro-choice folks have interpreted it. I don’t think that’s how the courts have interpreted it and I think that is important to emphasize and understand.
It isn’t clear to me whether Obama is promising to make mental-health exceptions more rigorous or whether he is (falsely) claiming that the existing definitions are more rigorous than some pro-lifers would have people believe. But this does seem to be another case of Obama trying to move to the right and then take all the substance of his shift back.
UPDATE: John McCormack has more.
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