July 7, 2008

The politics of “late term” abortions

Posted in Musings, Politics, Reproduction at 12:01 pm by The Lizard Queen

Via Shakesville comes this post at Bitch PhD with some facts about third-trimester abortions. Here are some thoughts I had on the matter:

Women are not just blithely heading for the abortion clinic in droves in their third trimester because they just don’t feel like having a baby anymore. And even if the very few women who want/need third-trimester abortions wand/need them for reasons someone else might call frivolous, how is that anyone else’s business? What’s the difference between sitting in our comfortable offices and living rooms and deciding whether a woman’s reasons are valid at 26+ weeks and sitting in our comfortable offices and living rooms and deciding whether a woman’s reasons are valid at 8 weeks? I don’t want to venture too far into slippery slope territory, but ultimately it just seems to me that it boils down to either you trust women, or you don’t.

A woman in the comments thread mentions that she’s in her second trimester and at this point, barring major health complications, feels a moral obligation to carry the fetus to term. I can certainly understand that. I can even understand people feeling uncomfortable about terminating a pregnancy during the third trimester. And as far as I’m concerned, people can comment and chat online and in person as much as they want about how a particular medical procedure makes them uncomfortable, or is something they couldn’t go through with because of their personal morals. The problem, of course, is people who decide to translate those morals or that discomfort into legislation.

As to Barack Obama’s recent statement (Liss’s emphasis):

I have repeatedly said that I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don’t think that “mental distress” qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.

It’s terribly disappointing and frustrating, but I’m not particularly surprised. This strikes me very much as national politics as usual — which is not at all to say that it’s okay, or that we shouldn’t hold a politician who would claim to be progressive or would like progressive votes accountable for statements like this. Still, I recognize that support for late-term abortions is a tricky thing to navigate, given that I would guess that the majority of citizens have moral or even just squick issues with third-trimester abortions. His dismissal of a whole slew of issues via the quotation-marked term “mental distress” pisses me off, of course, but as someone with a personal and family history of mental illness, again, I’m not particularly surprised. “Mental distress,” whether in the form of a certifiable mental illness or in a less easily identifiable form, gets dismissed a lot — perhaps especially, if you’ll forgive the sweeping generalization, in the Christian community.

Is this an indication that Obama is pandering to the right to try to win their (presumably unwinnable) votes? Possibly — or it might be that this is something he genuinely believes and has believed all along, or indeed, both could be true. I hate to sound so jaded, but isn’t pandering just sort of something politicians do? Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather that weren’t the case, and like I said before, it’s disappointing as hell, but, I don’t know, I guess I remember not being terribly impressed with John Kerry in 2004 but far preferring him to the alternative, so I guess I was essentially expecting more of the same this time around. [Sigh.]

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1 Comment »

  1. DavidD said,

    Following the links back to the original article, I see that this was an oral interview. So where did the quote marks around “mental distress” come from? Did Senator Obama make the sign of quote marks with his fingers as he said those words? Did he say “so-called mental distress”, in which case I would think the transcript would reflect that? Did his campaign approve the transcript with the quote marks? Maybe they did, but I can imagine easily that they didn’t. Did the person who prepared the transcript accurately infer from the Senator’s inflection that he was using “mental distress” as a euphemism for whatever insulting words he chose not to say, or did the Senator in fact mean nothing insulting, was not talking about diagnosable mental illness, but was just talking about some passing mental distress not otherwise specified?

    I skipped over something about a podcast where I might be able to answer those questions for myself, as should it turn out that there wasn’t a trace of judgment in the Senator’s voice as he said mental distress, I might not be able to restrain myself from using the usual blogging obscenties to judge the quality of commentary I’ve read in these links. I choose not to provoke myself to that degree. I can live with the mystery as a way of coping with my current mental distress. Unfortunately such choices to deal with mental distress are not enough for what our culture calls “mental illness”, as we both know. Do you really think Barack Obama doesn’t know the difference?

    Do you realize what Obama’s position is? It’s the position of the Supreme Court, at least until President McCain replaces Justice Stevens with another Scalia clone. Obama’s position is what the current law is. I bet that’s not an accident given Obama’s profession and what he teaches. If it pisses you off, then be pissed off with the whole system instead of blaming Obama per se or engaging in fantasy about his political motivations.

    Both the blogosphere and the MSM have been at their irresponsibly sensationalist worst recently about Obama’s words. The single word “refine” was interpreted as “negate” last week regarding Iraq. Is there such a shortage of English teachers in the US? I suppose it’s not the fault of teachers as much as how acceptable it is to say whatever one damn well pleases about what someone else must have meant.

    What do you suppose progressive bloggers are doing pouring over a conservative Christian website anyway? It seems to be about jumping to conclusions to me, just like people of any religious or political persuasion love to do. To what end?

    I’ve noticed something about past Gallup polls. There are consistently about 10% like me who say Roe v. Wade didn’t go far enough. I don’t see the government having a legitimate role in policing a woman’s uterus, even later in pregnancy as Roe v. Wade does and where the majority of Americans shift from leaving it to the woman, as they do in the 1st trimester, to wanting restrictions. It’s always hard to know what is on the mind of someone answering a poll, but it’s only 10% of us who are on the record saying that Roe v. Wade’s standard for women’s autonomy is not liberal enough. Is that what you want Obama’s beliefs or rhetoric to be?

    One thing I hate about our culture is how much people pretend to be mindreaders. It’s bad enough when it’s innocent, when people make the reasonable, but incorrect assumption that some other English speaker uses words to mean what I would mean as I picture myself saying those words, yet in politics, these eruptions over words are so often not innocent. Opponents manufacture gaffes that are purely a matter of marketing one’s words. Journalists look for the sensational. Then people also scrutinize their own to make sure that person isn’t straying from some acceptable conformity. For many of my fellow Democrats, Barack Obama was disappointing that he is religious at all. More are upset that he is presenting himself to Christian groups as something different than the stereotypes conservatives have about liberals, that liberals favor abortion on demand, that liberals say Christianity should have no place in public, that liberals hate America, as Sean Hannity has said explicitly.

    Conservatives have been trying very hard to keep Democrats in those stereotypes. Democrats vary as to how much they make a point of saying that those stereotypes are wrong. It’s clear that Barack Obama wants to challenge those stereotypes. I hope he’s successful. Those stereotypes are ridiculous.

    Is that pandering? It is if you use that word to make it be, but I don’t think it is here. Here he is introducing some Christians to the idea that being pro-choice doesn’t mean favoring abortion on demand, except for someone like me who never could be President. Here he is stating that he supports current Supreme Court decisions, the same ones to which I would think the slogan, “Keep Abortion Legal”, refers. I don’t know enough people who carry such signs to know what they think current law is or should be, but if I can be enthusiastic about Senator Obama’s position on abortion, even if it’s not mine, why can’t they? It’s that pesky problem of the shortcomings of human language I think. Do you want to use words to reveal something magical but real or to club someone over the head with? I almost wish people would go ahead and use real clubs to do the latter if that’s all they want to do. We could have effigies in the local park. Swing away.


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