Abortion and Obama's Learning Curve

Political junkies like me have added the forthcoming book "The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election" by Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson to our reading list. The extensive excerpt that appeared in the Washington Post yesterday whetted the appetite and I learned two things that were slightly surprising, one disconcerting and the other hopeful.

This disconcerting thing was this. In an interview after the election, the President-elect gives the authors his take on the election and notes, among other things, "the shift that’s taken place in the salience of some of the culture wars that emerged in the 60s that really were the dominant force in our politics, starting with Ronald Reagan, and how they had less power. Which, by the way, includes why the issue of Reverend Wright or Bill Ayers never caught as powerfully as it might have 15 or 20 years ago."


The problem with this analysis is that he appears to think the cultural issues emerged in the 60s but only began to dominate politics in the Reagan years. In other words, it was not the liberal challenge to cultural norms that dominated politics but the conservative backlash. President Obama of all politicians should know that the religious right was every bit as much of a grassroots phenomenon as anything he ever did on the Southside of Chicago. First in the fight against sex education in local school and then in the fight against the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, conservatives organized themselves to oppose what they saw as the intrusion of essentially Dewey-esque beliefs into their children’s schools. This grassroots movement existed before Reagan, was decisive in several key Senate races in 1978, had mostly backed Jimmy Carter’s bid for the White House on account of his evangelical credentials, had effectively shut down the city of Charleston, West Virginia when the literature curriculum for the public schools was set to include books that many conservative Christians found hostile to their faith and to their patriotism. Liberals like to think that the conservative movement was cooked up by pollsters and GOP operatives, but that is not the way it happened.

The hopeful part of the excerpt is the account of a July 15 meeting with his staff in which, according to the authors, "The campaign lacked crispness and good execution…He told his team members they were all doing B-level work." This tale contradicts or at least modifies the reputation of "No Drama Obama" and does so in a way that I find comforting. There are times it is worth getting upset. Indeed, if it was unacceptable for his staff to be doing B-level work on the campaign, how much more unacceptable is it when they are called upon to achieve universal health insurance!

During the August congressional recess, Obama and his staff can ponder what happened last week at the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The committee voted in favor of an amendment from Congressman Bart Stupak that would have prevented the federal government from mandating abortion coverage by private insurance plans. In short, keep the status quo. But, Committee Chairman Henry Waxman brought the amendment back for reconsideration and got Congressman Bart Gordon to change his vote, so the amendment failed. Mr. Obama and his staff need to understand that those Catholics who voted for Obama in 2008 but who voted for George W. Bush in 2004 were the decisive swing votes, and that they can swing back. Mr. Obama and his staff need to know that all their appeals for common ground on abortion will go out the window if Waxman and his ilk succeed in sneaking abortion coverage into the health care reform bill. I do not have any special insight into the internal deliberations of the White House staff. The President himself was pretty clear in an interview last week that he expected the health care reform to be neutral on the abortion issue. If that is the case, and no one from his staff called Waxman to object to the re-vote or called Gordon to tell him to stick to his guns, well, that qualifies as "B-level" work in my book.

Mr. President, please listen to those of us who want to support your efforts to enact health care reform, who applaud putting diplomacy at the center of our foreign policy, who commend you for taking on Wall Street and coming to the aid of the auto industry, who are thrilled about Cap & Trade legislation finally moving through Congress but who will not be able to continue to support your administration unless you ensure that no end-run around the Hyde Amendment occurs as part of the health care reform. We want to support you. We worry that some in your administration may not be telling you the depth of our concern or who, for whatever reason, have failed to suggest a simple means of resolving the issue, namely, permitting insurance companies to sell riders for abortion coverage that are paid for by the consumer not the government. Indeed, we worry that some members of your administration would prefer to see the Hyde Amendment overturned.

The swing vote is already precarious in states like Ohio and Michigan which have been hit hard by the recession. If the Hyde Amendment is effectively overturned, those Catholics and evangelical Christians who gave you the benefit of the doubt on the abortion issue because you promised to seek common ground will bolt in 2010 and 2012 and beyond. It is not a large slice of the electorate, but it is a decisive slice. Tell whoever failed to call Waxman that B-level work is not acceptable at this time.

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8 years 9 months ago
How about maybe checking some facts before touting an insurance plan. An abortion costs less than $400. It is a simple procedure of sucking out the embryo. Why pay an insurance company every month for a cheap procedure that hopefully never happens? Now, if you want to look at complications such as threaten the life of the woman because of a screwed up abortion, well, that would be covered anyway. The $20,000 it would cost for the ambulance and emergency room and one day hospital stay would be covered. I don't know what if anything is covered in the possible bills as regards incompetent physicians or procedures and untimely deaths; maybe you know? 
Still, is it justified to hold up an essential health care reform that will provide health care for tens of millions of needy because of the question of funding of abortion? Remember, abortion is a procedure of choice; funded or not nobody has to get one. I believe there are actually no medical reasons at all for anyone ever getting an abortion - despite  "medical reasons" being used as an argument for the availability of abortions. Abortion is a procedure for  convenience. Is a disabled or deformed fetus a reason for an abortion? Ask if the same applies to a newly born disabled or deformed baby. Is an "unwanted" for -any -reason baby subject to the death penalty with justice? Does love of self justify the destruction of another?
8 years 9 months ago
There are more than a million Americans alive today because of the Hyde Amendment - it is the most successful domestic ''abortion reduction'' policy ever adopted by Congress.  But the Hyde Amendment is not a government-wide law - it applies only to funds that flow through the annual Health and Human Services appropriations bill. 
The Obama-backed House health care bill, H.R. 3200, would establish a new pipeline for federal subsidies for health care, for a new population of 40 million or more Americans, and the funds that flow through this pipeline would not be covered by the Hyde Amendment.  (These funds are ''self-appropriated,'' as they say.)  Language written and offered by pro-abortion lawmakers and adopted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee over pro-life objections (the Capps Amendment) explicitly authorizes the new government-operated ''public plan'' to cover any and all abortions, from Day One, notwithstanding the Hyde Amendment.  It also allows federal premium subsidies for private health plans that cover elective abortions, under a bookkeeping sham.
That would leave only the Medicaid-eligible population, and Indian health services, covered by the Hyde Amendment.  But for how long?  The Hyde Amendment is not a permanent law - it expires every year on September 30.  It will endure only until the day when the President threatens to veto the annual funding bill that renews it, unless the Hyde Amendment is removed.   Once the Hyde Amendment is removed, federal funds will also fund elective abortion for Medicaid-eligible women as well.
Is this a plausible scenario?  More than plausible - it is predictable. Throughout his career as a state senator and as a U.S. senator, Barack Obama has opposed all legislation to limit abortion or government funding of abortion.  He reiterated his opposition to the Hyde Amendment during his presidential campaign.  He has never recanted this position in any way.
The end result of the two-stage scenario would be, predictably, a large increase in the number of abortions performed in this country.  This, at the hands of a President who told the American people that he would support policies to reduce abortions. 
This scenario can be prevented either by amending the bill to explicitly deny federal funding of plans that cover elective abortions - but the congressional Democratic leadership succeeded in defeated such amendments in four committees - or by defeating the legislation.  It cannot be prevented by wishful thinking.
Douglas Johnson
Legislative Director
National Right to Life Committee
Washington, D.C.
8 years 9 months ago
As an addendum to my earlier post, I'd like refute the bogus claim that President Obama has come out against federal funding of abortion.  This myth was propagated, for example, in a July 30 press release by Catholics United, in which the executive director of that organization, Chris Korzen, wrote: ''In fact, President Obama told CBS's Katie Couric on July 21 that the government . . . should continue to uphold a tradition of 'not financing abortions as part of government funded health care.'''
That would be newsworthy if it was true. But it is not true. It is a gross distortion of what Obama actually told Couric.  Obama actually said: ''As you know, I'm pro-choice. But I think we also have a tradition of, in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government funded health care. Rather than wade into that issue at this point, I think that it's appropriate for us to figure out how to just deliver on the cost savings, and not get distracted by the abortion debate at this station.''
Thus, the President simply observed that there is a ''tradition . . . historically'' against funding abortions, without in any way endorsing that ''tradition'' (which in fact he has always opposed) or saying that it ''should continue'' - that part was just made up by Mr. Korzen. Check out the video or the transcript for yourself:  [url=http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/07/21/eveningnews/main5178682_page2.shtml]http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/07/21/eveningnews/main5178682_page2.shtml[/url]
Obama also said, ''What I think is important, at this stage, is not trying to micromanage what benefits are covered.''  This is a veiled swipe against attaching language to the bill to prevent federal funding of abortion.  Obama knows very well that without such language in the law, federal health programs invariably pay for elective abortions.  For example, the federal Medicaid statute does not mention abortion, but it paid for 300,000 elective abortions annually until Congress stepped in to ''micromanage what benefits are covered'' by adding the Hyde Amendment to the annual funding bill.
Douglas Johnson
Legislative Director
National Right to Life Committee
Washington, D.C.
8 years 9 months ago

My dear friend had a late term abortion (almost at 6 months) of what seemed to be a healthy baby boy because the doctor said she had "low amniotic fluid." He told her that carrying her baby to term would put her health and potential for future children at risk. My friend was devistated, but only had three days to decide before it became illegal to have an abortion and so followed her doctor's advice. All I can think is how much money the insurance company saved and how much potential liability the local baby factory hospital and doctor avoided by not having to deal with a complicated pregnancy and delivery. So now we sit here in the health debate consumed by whether the government will fund abortions or not while automatically assuming that private insurance companies always act in the patient's best interest. By getting stuck on an issue, we automatically vote for the status quo. Which choice is wiser?

Yes, cultural issues have been around for a long time. My frustration arises because it seems culturally and religiously conservative people, like myself, have been co-opted by a Republican machine that cares nothing for our values except for how they might manipulate our sensibilities to keep themselves and their big money donors in power. How can we all be so foolish?

8 years 9 months ago

Okay, my addendum and question for NRtLC. Is it really true that a million babies were saved because of the Hyde Amendment? Abortion is a 5 minute procedure and cheap. That's why it is also very profitable. Do you think those who couldn't get Federal dollars for it thusly didn't get abortions? Is it really true that Medicaid and IHS patients don't have abortions funded by Federal dollars? Remember the glitch, "medical reasons". That loophole is pretty big. Maybe let people get medical insurance and spend your time on education of others instead of being a tool of obstructionists in regards to health care.

My take is that to oppose abortion funding is simply to fall into the group labeled as those who don't support women's health and good medical care. Of course this is a lie, As the truth is just the opposite, but it is a powerful lie that only makes the self-righteous pro-abortion medical community more solid in their stance that they care whereas other's dont care and in fact will risk the lives of women. Ask yourself - why else would some democrats be so adamant about having funding for abortions except they believe the above argument (and lie)? I don't know that it would even be a moral victory if you did eliminate federally funded abortions; seems to me the bishops think so but is it so? Especially if it results in so many without any insurance for medical problems.

8 years 9 months ago

The simple fact of the matter is that President Obama is not "unaware" of the effect of the health care legislation's language that is superficially neutral on the issue of abortion.  Legislation that neither requires nor prohibits the provision of abortion services in order to receive federal funds means that federal dollars may permissibly be used to fund abortions.  Although he has been quick to try and stifle the voice of dissent in the name of civility and finding common ground, he has never flinched from his ambitious pro-choice agenda.

What is more remarkable is that Catholics who voted for Obama were "unaware" that this is exactly what would happen in an Obama administration.  Indeed, Mr. Winters, when the first federally funded abortions begin rolling in by the thousands, when the embryos are put to death in the name of science in numbers far greater than the combined casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, and when federal policy has been modified to specifcally permit government funded abortions in the District of Columbia, you need go no further than the mirror to look at who is to blame.  President Obama never concealed that he was the most pro-choice candidate in history.  You just chose to ignore it.

8 years 9 months ago
Thanks for this post.  I have waited anxiously to see how you would respond to Waxman's maneuver.  Some Catholic bloggers on the left have minimized its significance.  Your acknowledgement of it here convinces me that your pro-life convictions are sincere-and override your evident enthusiasm for the new administration.  President Obama says he greatly admires Cardinal Bernardin.  What we need now is the cardinal standing outside the White House with a sign to remind the president that at least some Catholic voters still take the right to life seriously.
8 years 9 months ago
In the very bad old days of the Soviet Union, there used to be a saying among the people: "If only Stalin knew!" No matter what new form of institutional terror was inflicted upon them, millions of peasants naively assumed that it was all being done by party apparatchiks behind kindly Uncle Joe's back. It is fascinating to see Michael Sean Winters revive this cruel delusion. "If only Obama knew" that the healthcare bill would mandate federal funding of abortions!
8 years 9 months ago
Scholars have noted that all presidents learn on the job, but Obama's learning may not be what you and other pro-lifers want. He has spoken of his respect for Cardinal Bernardin, spoken at Notre Dame on ''common ground'' (which you called relativism), met with the Catholic media, and visited the Pope. Perhaps he's learned that such symbolic gestures are sufficient to retain the social justice oriented Catholic vote, without surrendering his pro-abortion commitment. After all we can see that he rescinded the Mexico City policy, pushed for embryonic stem cell research, and instructed the Secretary of State to advocate the universal right to abortion at the United Nations. Moreover, his senior personnel appointments are heavily pro-abortion. He may be a splendid politician and effective speaker (even without teleprompters), but his ethical foundation needs serious work.
8 years 9 months ago
Michael, you should share your concerns with the White House directly, as I don't think the President reads the blog (with all due respect).
Mr. Johnson is incorrect in his numbers.  The Hyde Amendment led to states funding abortions with their own money - or reimbursement from the local medical charities fund outside of medicaid.
As for abortion always being for convenience, it depends on how you define abortion.  Some "abortions" are actually dealing with imminent miscarriages - a fact that some priests don't understand when they tell parishoners not to get a D&C even though their is no fetal heartbeat.  Even excluding those, in rare occassions a child will have a chromosomal abnormality that will endanger the mother's life and will prevent the child from surviving long.  (most such abortions are induced early births, as the quicker they occur the less risk for the mother).  These abortions are not only medically necessary, but should be funded.  While they are a rarity, you can never say never in the face of conflicting evidence.
I agree that the Waxman reconsideration was ill advised, but there is always the Senate and the possibility of floor amendments.  Of course, it is a myth that everyone doesn't pay for abortions now, since private health plans provide them and sooner or later any individual will pay for something where at least some of their payment ends up in an abortionist's coffers.  I am sure it is likely that both Microsoft and Apple's health plans pay for abortion services.  Probably Dell too.  The computer you are using now to read this blog most likely had, in its price, abortion services for its employees.


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