What is Obama's current stance on the Freedom of Choice Act?
November 3, 2008 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Obama said in 2007 that signing the Freedom of Choice Act would be the first thing he'd do. Is that still true?

I am pro-lifer voting for Obama. It seems to me that his overall economic and education policies will lead to fewer abortions in the US. His rhetoric, particularly his 2006 Call to Renewal Keynote Speech, appears to chart a new "abortion reduction" policy that falls somewhere between pro-choice and pro-life (if a little closer to pro-choice).

Yet, I'm at a loss to explain to friends his assertion that the first thing he will do in office as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. It doesn't really fit his rhetoric or his general approach to politics, nor does it seem like a particularly wise thing to do politically (cf. B. Clinton, gays in military).

But I'm having trouble wading through the seemingly limitless and in some cases extremist pro-life websites to find a more reasonable analysis.

posted by beelerspace to Law & Government (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
From his website:

Supports a Woman's Right to Choose:
Barack Obama understands that abortion is a divisive issue, and respects those who disagree with him. However, he has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving women's rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as President. He opposes any constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in that case.

Preventing Unintended Pregnancy:
Barack Obama is an original co-sponsor of legislation to expand access to contraception, health information and preventive services to help reduce unintended pregnancies. Introduced in January 2007, the Prevention First Act will increase funding for family planning and comprehensive sex education that teaches both abstinence and safe sex methods. The Act will also end insurance discrimination against contraception, improve awareness about emergency contraception, and provide compassionate assistance to rape victims.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:25 PM on November 3, 2008

Plus this statement says he would work to pass FOCA if elected.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:27 PM on November 3, 2008

He said in January, "I will continue to defend this right by passing the Freedom of Choice Act as president." If you disagree with FOCA, then you just have to admit that voting for Obama would mean voting for someone who doesn't agree with you on every single issue.

Would it really be "the first thing he'd do"? That's hard to imagine. Obama's smart enough to realize that we're going to have a few more pressing problems on our hands when he's inaugurated. Saying something would be "the first thing I'd do as president" is the kind of thing that's said purely as an applause line. He has no way to ensure that the bill lands on his desk ready for him to sign on day 1 of his presidency.

Remember, though: if your vote is going to be influenced by the abortion issue, Obama isn't the only one with a nuanced position on abortion. You need to consider McCain's position(s) too: "Certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade...."
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:27 PM on November 3, 2008

And here's the actual text of the bill should you wish to read it instead of having it summarised for you by either pro-choice or pro-life parties.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:30 PM on November 3, 2008

I don't see anything on barackobama.com signaling a change in that position.

I think the idea is that because abortion is a last resort for preventing unwanted pregnancies, there should be few roadblocks to it. That is, once things are bad enough that abortion is the only option, we shouldn't compound the already difficult decision to abort with forced ultrasounds, lectures about fetal pain, etc. If there is going to be a choice, then it should be a true, free choice, not one influenced at every step by government regulations advocating a particular outcome.

I'll make an analogy to home defense. The best thing is to eliminate crime through education and economic growth. Next comes a good police force, a home security system, etc. The last resort is a gun for self defense. But if it comes down to it, we trust the individual to make the right decision in the moment of crisis.

Now, whether you agree with that reasoning is up to you.
posted by jedicus at 4:31 PM on November 3, 2008

And here's the crucial passage:
(b) PROHIBITION OF INTERFERENCE- A government may not--

(1) deny or interfere with a woman's right to choose--

(A) to bear a child;

(B) to terminate a pregnancy prior to viability; or

(C) to terminate a pregnancy after viability where termination is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman; or

(2) discriminate against the exercise of the rights set forth in paragraph (1) in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.
My multiple emphasis. This bill has often been reported as 'abolishing all restrictions and limitations' around abortion (this is the current wording on Wikipedia, for example), which is simply not true. It makes fetal viability the point at which government regulation and review becomes valid. In doing so, it seeks to clarify Roe Vs Wade by setting out where a state or federal government have no say in the matter.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:38 PM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Maybe it would help if you'd explain what seems surprising or contradictory to you in the combination of positions or approaches he's taken. It all seems pretty consistent to me.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:42 PM on November 3, 2008

Response by poster: These are great. Researching.

Jaltcoh, I think it's that my understanding of FOCA was that it was a fairly partisan, strongly pro-choice document. My perception of Obama is that he is a relatively minor player when it comes to abortion rights, and generally favoring a "left-middle-left" tact, so it just seems little out of character.

For example, Clinton seemed to rack up significantly more pro-choice endorsements during the primary, which tells me that Obama was not the preferred candidate. (Likewise, I think James Dobson said that under no circumstances would he vote for McCain.)
posted by beelerspace at 5:35 PM on November 3, 2008

Dobson is backing McCain the AP reports: "Dobson has come around to supporting the McCain-Palin ticket after previously saying he could not in good conscience vote for McCain. He endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee late in the primaries."

As McCain (and others) have pointed out, the exception for the health of the mother is a hole in the legislation big enough to drive a truck through. It's whatever a doctor is willing to sign off on.

Obama has run ads touting his pro-choice position.

Much of Obama's reputation as a radical on this issue comes from his opposing the Illinois Infants Born Alive Protection Act three times.

Jaltoch's "nuanced" link is from 1999, and even there is held out as a "softening" of McCain's pro-life views, and McCain tries to backpedal. Here's the current McCain position.
posted by Jahaza at 7:53 PM on November 3, 2008

You know, speaking only as a man, the derision by the right of "the health of the mother" is a very serious thing. Fundamentally there's a risk to bringing a child to term, and I think it's a obscene to dismiss that as fictional like McCain did. While McCain may have been thinking of a specific bill, the argument took shape over health of the mother provisions in hypothetical future bills requiring states to consider the health of the mother.

Clinton's surplus of pro-choice endorsements probably came from the desire to support the first woman president. It shouldn't come as a surprise to you that the feminist movement and pro-choice movement have significant overlap.

I wouldn't paint Obama's position as "extreme left." American polling on Roe v. Wade hovers at around 50 percent, with only minor party slant. But it's probably the case that you don't care whether his views are "strong left" or only "mildly left"; just whether he'd sign or veto a bill that endorses the status quo.

I'd suggest a reading of the bill in question. As far as legislation goes, it's quite short and straightforward.
posted by pwnguin at 9:09 PM on November 3, 2008

As McCain (and others) have pointed out, the exception for the health of the mother is a hole in the legislation big enough to drive a truck through. It's whatever a doctor is willing to sign off on.

Yes, which is as it should be. Americans are always banging on about how socialised medicine would mean 'the government between you and your doctor'. Ironically, that is exactly what removing 'health of the mother' exceptions would mean - the government overruling the professional, trained judgement of doctors, in life-or-death situations.

That's unthinkable.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:31 AM on November 4, 2008

Jaltoch's "nuanced" link is from 1999,

I know this whole thread is now moot since McCain lost the election, but I would just like to note that the fact that that link was from 1999 has nothing to do with it (unless you expect someone's abortion position to change on a regular basis, which you shouldn't).
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:59 PM on December 28, 2008

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