Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Obama and the Abortion Debate- an exchange of letters between friends

This post is essentially an exchange between my friend and I on the subject of abortion that I have decided to post. I'm posting it because I believe it is an exchange that many of us have had regarding different issues.

It is so easy to divide the world into black and white, right and wrong, good and evil. However, the uncomfortable reality is that, whether we like it or not, things are much more nuanced than that. I would like to point out that I do not think I am the ideological savior of nuance- heaven knows I've got more than my fair share of strong opinions about the way things are. I confess to have called John McCain "a duplicitous, lying fucktard" and other such names on more than one occasion. So, from the getgo, I admit hypocrisy here. However, I do attempt to do better.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from the 2004 election was that I had a choice about how I viewed the outcome of the election. It basically came down to two choices:

1) I could continue to view Bush as the GREAT SATAN SENT TO DESTROY THE COUNTRY AND THE WORLD, and the people who elected him again as RIDICULOUS FOOLS WHO DESERVE THE FUCKING OVER THAT THEY WOULD GET FOR RE-ELECTING SOMEONE SO CLEARLY EVIL. Thinking this way, however, had meant that I hadn't gone to school in 3 weeks (being a political science major during a presidential election is basically like taking concurrent hits of cocaine and heroine- it completely overwhelms your system) wore only black, and had taken to reading The Communist Manifesto and mumbling to myself.

2) I could choose to believe that, although I fundamentally disagreed with President Bush on basically every single issue, he wasn't "evil" (or at least, not completely evil, which was the best I could do). And, people who voted for him weren't evil either- they had different priorities and ideals than I did (and possibly less information).

Actively choosing the second option made me a more peaceful person. It made me more rational and able to accept the fact that I don't know everything about everything. It reinforced my previous belief that, when you are angry, no matter how right you might be, you are wrong. The following exchange of letters represents my (flawed) attempt at bridging the gap between black and white, good and evil, right and wrong. I'm half tempted to not publish it at all, lest I seem self-aggrandizing, but I think everyone has been in a position where they find themselves wanting to oppose someone, but with information and rationality, not emotion. I am hoping that people who read this exchange can critique my response- and together we can find a better way to discuss and debate ideas.

October 4, 2008
Dear Friends and Family,
In every election cycle, we as Americans have the distinct privilege of choosing which issues
are important to us, and then casting our votes according to which presidential candidate
we feel best represents our values. There are many issues this year that are important to
me, as well as most Americans, including the war in Iraq and especially the economy. The
current economic unrest is frightening, and must be taken seriously in our consideration of
who we'll vote for this November. But as a mother and as a christian conservative, I have
found myself very much concerned about the disintegration of the family in our society, and
more specifically the heinous practice of abortion.

Simply put, some issues are more important than others. How can future generations of
Americans have the privilege of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, if they are never given
the chance at life. For this reason, it matters a great deal to me how the presidential and
vice-presidential candidates feel about this practice. So I've done my homework. I have
been so repulsed by the information I found that I have felt compelled, for the first time in
my life, to publicly speak out against one candidate in favor of another- rather than keeping
my opinions to myself.

In 1999, a Chicago nurse named Jill Stanek (www.jillstanek.com) discovered that surviving
fetuses of botched abortions were being left to die in a soiled utility room at Christ Hospital
where she worked. At the expense of her job, she immediately began a campaign in defense
of these defenseless babies. She worked toward getting the Induced Infant Liability Act
passed before the Illinois State Legislature. But she received outright resistance. Barack
Obama, who was then the chairman of the Human Services Committee voted no, therefore
immediately killing the bill that would have given basic human rights to survivors of late term
abortions. The bill was later translated into the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act,
which was passed into law, along with the Partial Birth Abortion Ban, in 2003 by President
George W. Bush. Jill Stanek was vindicated in her work when she was personally invited by
the President to be present at the signing of those bills. Only 15 members of the house
opposed it and it passed the Senate unanimously. But Barack Obama didn't believe these
babies deserved human rights.

Another thing that concerns me is that according to the 1996 IVI-IPO General Candidate
Questionnaire, Barack Obama doesn't see the need for teenage girls over the age of 13 to
have parental consent to get an abortion. He's even gone on to say at a recent campaign
speech in Johnstown, Pennsylvania that he didn't want his own daughters being "punished
with a baby" if they were to make a mistake. In his language and his actions, Barack
Obama has shown a lack of concern for the protection of the unborn and defenseless and a
pattern of disregarding the sanctity of life.

It is for these disturbing reasons that I have felt personally compelled to speak out in favor
of his opposing candidate in this election, Senator John McCain, who has consistently stood
for life during his career as a Senator. And his running mate, Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin,
has stood for life not only in her words, but in her actions, when she knowingly chose to
give birth to a child with Downs Syndrome.

In contrast Barack Obama's running mate, Joe Biden has said that as a practicing Catholic,
he believes that life begins at conception. And yet he still sides with the pro-choice
movement and refuses to come out against abortion. In fact, in an effort to appease the
pro-life movement, the Obama/Biden campaign has made it part of their platform to
"reduce the number of abortions" taking place in this country. On the surface that sounds
great, but the bottom line is that over 48,000,000 abortions have already taken place in this
country since Roe vs. Wade was passed in 1973. Six times the population of New York City
has never been given the chance at life. America today needs people of conviction and
courage in the White House who are willing to take significant action against abortion, not
people who will abandon faith and conscience in order to please their political party.

I believe that in order to protect the sanctity of life and to stop this destructive tide sweeping
our nation, that simply casting our own vote is not enough. I feel very strongly that those of
us who understand the sanctity of life must be willing to speak up and share our views with
those around us. We must be willing to engage in conversations with our friends and
neighbors, informing them why we feel the way we do. And we must be willing to support
the candidate that will most likely appoint judges to the Supreme Court that will fight to
protect the lives of these precious unborn children in the decades to come.

Please vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin on November 4th, 2008. Please vote to protect
the unborn and the defenseless. And please be willing to speak up and encourage your
friends and neighbors to do the same. Some issues are simply more important than others.

Yours sincerely,
Susannah Taylor

PS. If you feel as strongly about this issue as I do, please consider writing your own letter
and send it to your friends and family.


Sheena woman,

I truly appreciated you forwarding on that very thoughtful letter that your friend wrote regarding abortion and Barack Obama’s position on abortion. I think it is a wonderful thing to be reminded that all people have different opinions and different convictions regarding this upcoming election.

I wanted to write you a letter back because some of the information that your friend’s letter contained was out of context and erroneous. While I think the point of her letter was simply to point out that, to her, abortion is one of the most serious issues of this current election, this point rested on several pieces of information that are in fact, untrue. In correcting these, I am not seeking to undermine your friend’s convictions. Rather, I believe that having true information on this matter would make her argument stronger.

It is very true that people on both sides of the abortion issue have a tendency to misconstrue information and exaggerate the truth. In this particular instance, all one needs to do is go online and type in “Obama Jill Stanek” and hundreds of pro-choice/anti-abortion blogs and websites will pop up, each vilifying the other side for their take on this story. While I think everyone has their personal opinion about this “Born Alive Infants Protection Act,” I think there are some facts that don’t represent partisan slanting. I have listed them below, with references.

1) One of the reasons that Barack Obama has said that he opposed the “Induced Infant Liability Act” in 2001, 2002, and 2003 was because a law had already been in place since 1975, defending the rights of infants born alive through induced abortive practices. Pro-life groups dispute this, so I am including several passages from the actual 1975 law:

Sec. 5. (1) When the fetus is viable no abortion shall be performed unless in the medical judgment of the attending or referring physician, based on the particular facts of the case before him, it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother. Intentional, knowing, or reckless failure to conform to the requirements of subsection (1) of Section 5 is a Class 2 felony.
(2) When the fetus is viable the physician shall certify in writing, on a form prescribed by the Department under Section 10 of this Law, the medical indications which, in his medical judgment based on the particular facts of the case before him, warrant performance of the abortion to preserve the life or health of the mother.

(Source: P.A. 83‑1128.)

(720 ILCS 510/6) (from Ch. 38, par. 81‑26)
Sec. 6. (1) (a) Any physician who intentionally performs an abortion when, in his medical judgment based on the particular facts of the case before him, there is a reasonable likelihood of sustained survival of the fetus outside the womb, with or without artificial support, shall utilize that method of abortion which, of those he knows to be available, is in his medical judgment most likely to preserve the life and health of the fetus.

(b) The physician shall certify in writing, on a form prescribed by the Department under Section 10 of this Act, the available methods considered and the reasons for choosing the method employed.

(c) Any physician who intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly violates the provisions of Section 6(1)(a) commits a Class 3 felony.

(2) (a) No abortion shall be performed or induced when the fetus is viable unless there is in attendance a physician other than the physician performing or inducing the abortion who shall take control of and provide immediate medical care for any child born alive as a result of the abortion. This requirement shall not apply when, in the medical judgment of the physician performing or inducing the abortion based on the particular facts of the case before him, there exists a medical emergency; in such a case, the physician shall describe the basis of this judgment on the form prescribed by Section 10 of this Act. Any physician who intentionally performs or induces such an abortion and who intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly fails to arrange for the attendance of such a second physician in violation of Section 6(2)(a) commits a Class 3 felony.


As you can see, Obama’s statement that law was already in place for this particular issue is correct.

2) In her letter, your friend Susannah claims that Stanek’s efforts were vindicated when the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act was passed in 2003. However, the Illinois bills she references in 2001 and 2002 were, in fact, very different from the federal bill passed in 2002 (not 2003). Pro-choice groups, including Planned Parenthood and the NARL, had no objections to the federal bill, nor to the subsequent Illinois bill passed in 2005. http://www.kaisernetwork.org/daily_reports/rep_index.cfm?DR_ID=5334

However, there is some dispute over the 2003 piece of legislation that Obama also opposed. Pro-life people say that the 2003 legislation contained exactly the same language as the 2003 federal bill, with a few minor changes in language. FactCheck.org backs this, saying that the bill did contain essentially the same language as the national bill that Obama said he would have supported. However, pro-choice groups, such as Planned Parenthood offer a different take and clarification on why this bill continued to be different:

In 2003, “Born Alive Infant” legislation was reintroduced. This time it was a package of two bills instead of three. SB 1082 would have amended the Statute of Statues by including the definition of “born alive” in any Illinois statute, rule or regulation using the terms “person”, “human being”, “child”, or “individual”. SB 1082 included a clause that was different from the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. It also excluded language contained in the federal law. The second bill, SB 1083, would have created the Induced Birth Infant Liability Act which included civil liability for physicians who performed abortions. Again, the legislation was aimed at creating barriers to abortion services in Illinois. In addition, the package raised concerns about the provision of health care to pregnant women and the legal status of the fetus. For these reasons Planned Parenthood renewed its opposition to the package.

On March 12, 2003, both bills were posted for consideration in the Illinois Senate Health and Human Services Committee which was chaired by Barack Obama. The bills’ sponsor, Senator Rick Winkel first presented SB 1082. He requested that an amendment be adopted to the bill which would change it to mirror the federal legislation passed in 2002. The amendment was adopted in a procedural move called “leave for attendance roll call” which is a courtesy that is afforded to bill sponsors in order to move committee hearings along in a timely fashion. Despite the fact that the bill then contained the same language as the federal law, it remained problematic because it still amended Illinois statutes regulating abortion, and was still part of a package that included SB 1083. Senator Winkel presented SB 1082 to the committee and it failed on a vote of six members voting no (including Senator Obama) and four members voting yes.


So even though the language in one of the laws was the same as the federal bill, the bill in question was part of a package that contained another bill which would have put general abortion rights at risk. I realize that I am including partisan information, but in doing so, I am simply attempting to point out the concerns voiced by the other side of the argument, since both sides make valid points.

3) The concern of whether or not abortion by teenagers requires parental consent is certainly much more ideologically based. I think, however, rather than labeling Obama as uncaring about the “protection of the unborn and defenseless” or “disregarding the sanctity of life”, looking at the pros and cons of such an issue definitely show that there are rational reasons to support either side of this issue. I have included a non-partisan break-down of the parental consent debate which I think shows many good points from both angles. For Obama to choose one rational side over the other does not mean that he is dangerously uncaring. It means that he has ideological priorities that differ from your friend’s.


The fact of the matter is that Obama is pro-choice. Abortion is a very serious topic that no one should consider lightly, however I think it is worth mentioning that many people who believe in the sanctity of life and the importance of families are also pro-choice. If your friend chooses not to vote for Obama because he is pro-choice, that is a decision that I am sure she is not taking lightly, and I respect her decision. However, utilizing information that misconstrues Obama as a baby killer does a disservice to her (for misrepresenting information), to the people she contacts (who may not have the time to conduct a review of the information), to Obama (who, although ideologically different from your friend, is clearly NOT a baby killer), and to the large population of people who fundamentally differ in their beliefs of what constitutes life. Abortion is not a black and white issue- it contains thousands of shades of grey. Acknowledging this fact, while respecting differing opinions, can help bridge the divide between both camps, making the entire debate less hostile, less violent, and more approachable.

I hope this letter has not offended you, or your friend, if you choose to pass it on to her. I love you very much and hope I get to see you the next time I come out So. Cal. way!



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