The Washington Post reports that President Obama is running his reelection campaign as a "culture warrior," trying to cast his opponents as extremists on such issues as abortion in the case of rape and requiring religious institutions to pay for contraception. But could Obama's own extremism on abortion come back to bite him?
During a 2003 press conference, Barack Obama indicated that he thought abortion should be legal in all situations, even late in pregnancy:
OBAMA: “I am pro-choice.”
REPORTER: “In all situations including the late term thing?”
OBAMA: “I am pro-choice. I believe that women make responsible choices and they know better than anybody the tragedy of a difficult pregnancy and I don’t think that it’s the government’s role to meddle in that choice.”
In another interview, Obama said: "I voted no on the late-term abortion ban, not because I don't recognize that these are painful issues but because I trust women to make these decisions."
But over the years, Obama has been shifty on the issue of late-term abortion. As an Illinois state senator, Obama opposed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. The problem, in Obama's own words, was that in some cases the "fetus, or child -- however you want to describe it" was "not just coming out limp and dead." Supporters of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act wanted to require doctors to provide medical care to these infants, while Obama wanted to leave it up to the discretion of the abortionist to determine whether these infants had a reasonable chance of sustained life.
But when Obama ran for president in 2008, he said that he supported states' banning late-term abortions so long as the bans contained a "strict" exception for the physical health of the mother. Days later, Obama modified his position, saying he also supported an exception for "serious clinical mental health diseases." Supreme Court reporter Jan Crawford noted at the time that Obama's position was still "startling" because the exceptions Obama claimed to support were narrower than the Supreme Court's 1973 edict in Doe v. Bolton that there must be “emotional, psychological, familial, and ... age" exceptions to late-term abortion bans.
Obama's 2008 endorsement of late-term abortion bans also appeared to be in conflict with his support for the Freedom of Choice Act. In 2007, Obama cosponsored the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which would strike down restrictions on abortion at the state and federal level. The bill stated that all abortions must be legal before "viability" for any reason and that abortions must be legal until birth if a woman's health is at risk. FOCA does not contain a definition of "health," therefore "anything an abortionist says is related to 'health' is sufficient," according to Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee. "A state would not be able to adopt any limiting definition (for example, defining 'health' to exclude emotional distress), because that would be to narrow and infringe on the federally guaranteed right which FOCA would establish. The entire purpose of FOCA is to prohibit any narrowing of the federally guaranteed right -- for example, by requiring parental notification, or by refusing to fund abortions."
In a direct challenge to the very broad definition of "health" in Doe v. Bolton, a number of states in recent years have banned abortions from being performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the time when an unborn child can feel pain. But, in contrast to his vocal opposition to state legislation such as Arizona's immigration law and Wisconsin's labor reforms, Obama has remained silent on these late-term bans.
When the House of Representatives voted on a late-term abortion ban for the nation's capital this summer, White House press secretary Jay Carney dodged the issue. "Well, I haven’t spoken to the president about this particular piece of legislation," Carney said at a White House press briefing on July 31, "but the president’s position on a woman’s reproductive freedom is well known." Almost one-month later, the White House has not indicated whether Obama supports or opposes banning abortion when an unborn child can feel pain.
According to Dr. Martin Haskell, the man who invented the partial-birth abortion procedure, most abortions after 5 months of pregnancy are "purely elective."
"I’ll be quite frank: most of my abortions are elective in that 20-24 week range," he said in a 1993 interview with American Medical News. "In my particular case, probably 20% are for genetic reasons. And the other 80% are purely elective."
Although Obama's views on late-term abortion are not entirely clear, he has remained a clear supporter of taxpayer-funding of abortion.
Though pro-choice Democrats deny that Obamacare funds abortions, it does in fact allow tax dollars to be used to purchase health care plans that cover elective abortions. Obama signed an executive order that purported to stop taxpayer-funding of abortion in Obamacare, but the order didn't even address Obamacare's main abortion-funding mechanism. "The executive order probably would not stand [in court] and even if it did stand, it only covered part of the abortion funding—the direct funding of abortion [at Community Health Centers], not the fees for [subsidized] health plans," pro-life Democratic congressman Dan Lipinski of Illinois told me in 2010. The 2012 election will determine whether or not Obamacare, and hence its abortion-funding, actually takes effect.
Obama also supports direct taxpayer-funding of elective abortions for Medicaid recipients. Obama opposes the Hyde amendment, which bars federal funding of abortion through Medicaid except in cases when a pregnancy endangers a woman's life or is the result of rape or incest. "Obama does not support the Hyde amendment," read a questionnaire filled out by the Obama campaign in 2008. "He believes that the federal government should not use its dollars to intrude on a poor woman's decision whether to carry to term or to terminate her pregnancy and selectively withhold benefits because she seeks to exercise her right of reproductive choice in a manner the government disfavors." The Freedom of Choice Act would also mandate taxpayer-funding for elective abortions.
So Obama has plenty of vulnerabilities on social issues, but it remains to be seen whether they'll become a problem for him. For Obama's extremism to hurt him, the media would have to ask him questions about these issues. As Time's Mark Halperin said the other day, "the media is very susceptible to doing what the Obama campaign wants." And what the Obama campaign wants right now is for the media to focus on issues that could hurt the Romney-Ryan campaign, not Obama.