Abortion Is a No-Win Issue for Obama

It is no secret that Barack Obama is making a play for religious voters. Having figured out that so-called value voters are among the voters he must persuade to win in November, Obama is openly talking about his faith. Contrary to popular belief, his problems are not really about his 20-year association with a hate-spewing preacher or scurrilous rumors that he is a closet Muslim. The real problem: he is adamantly opposed to positions these voters hold dear.

We saw this with regard to gay marriage. He previously had avoided approving of gay marriage, and embraced fuzzy language praising civil unions and supporting nondiscrimination against gays. But then he decried a California initiative seeking to ban gay marriage. Worse yet for his crusade to win over religious voters, he declared support the traditional institution of marriage to be "divisive and discriminatory." It is not surprising that a group of evangelical leaders shortly thereafter came out in support of John McCain.

But Obama's real difficulty comes over abortion. His record as a state legislator was extreme -- voting "present" three times on a partial birth abortion bill and three times against a bill requiring medical care to babies born alive during an abortion procedure. In the U.S. Senate he racked up a perfect 100% rating from NARAL for three years straight. (His website touts a long list of pro-choice groups and his history of absolute support for Roe v. Wade.) And when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Federal Partial Birth Abortion ban he decried the ruling, saying "I strongly disagree with today's Supreme Court ruling, which dramatically departs from previous precedents safeguarding the health of pregnant women."

So it was not surprising that he tried to soften his position and reach out to religious voters in an interview with Relevant Magazine when he declared:

"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."

Well, this sounded like big news. AP noted:

The health care exception is crucial to abortion rights advocates and is considered a legal loophole by abortion opponents. By limiting the health exception to a "serious physical issue," Obama set himself apart from other abortion rights proponents. The official position of NARAL Pro-Choice America, the abortion rights group that endorsed Obama in May, states: "A health exception must also account for the mental health problems that may occur in pregnancy. Severe fetal anomalies, for example, can exact a tremendous emotional toll on a pregnant woman and her family."

As a savvy court watcher pointed out, "[T]here's no mistaking that Obama says he no longer will support what's long been a cornerstone of the abortion rights debate: The Court's insistence that laws banning abortions after the fetus is viable (now about 22 weeks) contain an exception to allow doctors to perform them if necessary to protect a pregnant woman's mental health." In short, Roe v. Wade and subsequent cases have made clear that although states can "regulate" late term abortions, such abortions must always be permitted to protect the "mental health" of the woman.