July 7, 2008
The politics of “late term” abortions
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.]