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Poor Choice for Pro-lifers

An abortion opponent's perplexing support for Barack Obama.

12:00 AM, Aug 22, 2008 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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AT SADDLEBACK CHURCH last Saturday, Barack Obama's latest attempt to woo pro-lifers fell flat. When pastor Rick Warren asked, "At what point does a baby get human rights?" Obama replied: "Answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade." Lost amid the blowback sparked by this flippant remark, however, was the olive branch Obama offered pro-lifers. "The goal right now should be--and this is where I think we can find common ground, and by the way, I've now inserted this into the Democratic party platform--is how do we reduce the number of abortions," he told Pastor Rick.

Obama was referring to proposed language in the Democratic party platform that declares the party "strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs." Obama's handful of pro-life supporters have long argued that a President Obama could reduce the abortion rate more than a President McCain. Pepperdine law professor Douglas W. Kmiec, a former Reagan and Bush I Justice Dept. official, wrote in a May 3 CatholicOnline article that Obama could do more to "reduce abortion practice in America" through "new efforts and untried paths rather than legal bickering over potential Supreme Court nominations."

Thirty-five years and eight Republican Supreme Court appointments after Roe v. Wade was handed down, Kmiec's argument might appeal to some disaffected pro-life voters--perhaps just enough to shave off McCain's small edge in swing states like Ohio. Kmiec, who backed Mitt Romney during the Republican primary, is arguably Obama's most prominent pro-life supporter.

But Kmiec's argument ignores one very inconvenient fact: Obama's policies on abortion, taken as a whole, would very likely lead to a higher abortion rate. That's because Obama supports subsidizing abortion by repealing the Hyde amendment, which prohibits Medicaid and other government funding for abortions. According to a study by University of Alabama political scientist Michael New, "state laws restricting the use of Medicaid funds in paying for abortions" reduce the abortion rate by more than 29,000 abortions for every 1 million women of childbearing age.

Squaring Obama's pledge to subsidize abortion with his goal of reducing the number of abortions is quite a difficult task. In a phone interview in late May, I asked Kmiec if he was aware that Obama supports public funding for abortion. "I can't say that I am quite frankly," he replied.

I asked Kmiec, in light of Obama's commitment to taxpayer funding of abortion, if he would consider renouncing his endorsement if the senator didn't change his position. "I haven't seen the social science literature that you're obviously much more privy to and obviously sending me," he said. But assuming that public funding would significantly increase the abortion rate, Kmiec added, "I would be at a loss to say anything other than I can't support the senator at that point."

Kmiec pointed to a piece he had written for Slate, in which he declared his endorsement of Obama "will be renounced more loudly than it was given," if Obama failed to "work to reduce the incidence of the practice [of abortion]".

I emailed Kmiec reports on a number of studies showing that Medicaid funding of abortion causes a higher abortion rate. But when he got back to me in mid-June, he said Obama's position on abortion funding was not a dealbreaker. Kmiec explained that one "must take full account of the church's social teaching" on other issues like poverty, war, and the environment. When I asked him about his statement that he would likely renounce his endorsement if Obama didn't reconsider abortion funding, he replied: "If I said it quite that categorically, that's not quite where I'm at."