Obama on abortion: irreconcilable togetherness?

barack-obama-for-presidentAt no point during President Obama’s commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame did he meaningfully engage the abortion debate. Although “the views of the two camps are irreconcilable,” lifers and choicers should “work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions.” I am usually struck by something unobjectionably good in President Obama’s earnest appeals to moderation and cooperation, but these particular earnest appeals are more irritating than inspiring because they don’t make any sense.

Consider separately the handful of examples offered in this same speech: reducing unintended pregnancies, adoption, and providing care and support for women who choose to carry their child to term.

Unintended pregnancies? The pro-life camp believes in abstinence-only sex education or no sex education at all. Even Feminists for Life, an at least nominally pro-woman pro-life organization, does not take an official position on the use of contraceptives because some of its membership opposes its use. Among the millions of dollars of questionably wasteful pork projects in the stimulus bill – it was increased funding to states for birth control that got the easy axe.

Adoption? Family planning providers are already required to provide information about adoption to pregnant women. Counselors trained under the The Infant Adoption Awareness Act report concerns about the “overtly religious tenor” of the training and the promotion of adoption at the “exclusion of all other alternatives.” Georgia lawmakers just passed the cleverly titled “Option of Adoption Act,” amending Georgia adoption code to require embryo donors to relinquish parental rights to the embryo recipient.  These efforts further muddy the waters by flying the ‘adoption’ banner over what is essentially fetal personhood legislation.  Georgia Right to Life President celebrated the bills passage as “headway in our goal of establishing personhood for the pre-born.”

Providing care and support? This means dollars.  Given the unprecedented amount of government stimulus spending of late and congressional Republicans increasingly grumpy opposition to any spending at all,  this option seems the least viable.  Clinton-era conservative moralizing about not rewarding welfare mothers irresponsible procreation choices with tax dollars is sure to rear its ugly head once again.

If the administration is serious about public policy that reduces the number of women seeking abortions, it cannot rely on vague platitudes of cooperation and togetherness.  Reducing unintended pregnancies, adoption, and providing care and support to women who choose to carry their child to term are all positive and attainable goals – but achieving them will require stepping on the toes of moderates and conservatives who continue to use the same goals to undermine reproductive freedom.

About Kate:
Kate is a public policy expert with a vintage dress obsession.


  1. freewomyn says:

    Amen, Kate. This is not a middle of the road position. The pro-choice camp is the only group who actually wants to decrease unintented pregnancies and abortion. Access to birth control and medically accurate safe sex education are the remedy. And yet government funding for both of these has been woefully slashed over the past decade. If Obama is pro-choice, as he promised to be in the campaign, then he needs to step it up and stop trying to be all things to all people.

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