Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Obama, babies, and misperceptions

I'm going to stray away from more local matters (there goes half my audience!) and talk about Barack Obama. And babies. I know, riveting stuff, but stick with me for a second, eh?

I recently dove into a rather heated debate over at Badger Blogger regarding Obama's stance on both the federal and Illinois "born alive" laws--that is, rules that make sure any child born viable as the result of an abortion is afforded full medical care. Obama has come under a great deal of fire for voting against the Illinois version of this bill back in his state senate days. He has said that we would have voted for the federal bill had he been in the Senate at the time (it was passed with bipartisan support), and that the reason he voted no on the Illinois incarnation was because it lacked the neutrality clause included in the federal one. That neutrality clause spelled out, in no uncertain terms, that the bill did not in any way circumvent Roe v. Wade:
(c) Nothing in this section shall be construed to affirm, deny, expand, or contract any legal status or legal right applicable to any member of the species homo sapiens at any point prior to being "born alive" as defined in this section.
Obama's stated problem with the Illinois version of the law was two-fold: first, that Illinois already had a law on the books (it had been there for 20 years) that was nearly identical to the one being proposed:
For more than 20 years, Illinois law has required that when 'there is a reasonable likelihood of sustained survival of the fetus outside the womb, with or without artificial support,' an abortion may only be performed if a physician believes 'it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.' And in such cases, the law requires that the doctor use the technique 'most likely to preserve the life and health of the fetus' and perform the abortion in the presence of '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.' [Chicago Tribune, 8/17/04]
Secondly, because the new Illinois law being introduced lack the neutrality clause, Obama worried that it could be used as a tool for undoing many of the rights and protections afforded women by Roe v. Wade. The new bill was nothing more than a political ploy to make anyone who voted against it look bad--and it worked. In the comments thread at Badger Blogger, Obama was accused of being "pro-infanticide," an incredibly offensive and loaded accusation if ever there was one. But apparently those making the claim felt comfortable handing out this label to anyone who tried to point out a different side to the story. That included me.

I was called upon to "try to explain how infanticide is okay" and labeled with gems like "You, and people like you, are the problem that serves as a vehicle for the horrors committed in this nation" and "You support live children being left to die on a shelf." There's more, of course, but I don't feel like posting them all. If you can stomach it, give the comments thread a read to see the rest.

I don't know how anyone really believes that accusing people of being pro-infanticide will help further their argument, or win over any previously disagreeing hearts and minds. It's right up there with Godwin's Law in my books.

I foolishly tried to have a reasonable debate with those folks, but they weren't having it, so eventually I just left well enough alone. Still, the fact that there was anyone out there who might really believe, even incorrectly, that I or Obama or anyone outside of homocidal, sociopathic maniacs were actually pro-infanticide, remained deeply troubling to me. As in so many of these sorts of charged, emotional debates, no amount of what I thought was reasonable refutation of misperceptions or presentation of fact could move them.

Today, I read a fascinating, well-worded piece over at the Huffington Post by Drew Westen, who talked about Obama's recent talk at Rev. Rick Warren's "Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency" - specifically, how he addressed the issue of abortion in comparison with John McCain. Go give it a read, I'll wait....

...So, he makes some great points. And it got me to thinking: the people over at BB who were so adamant that Obama and myself are pro-infanticide seem to have thoroughly linked that issue with abortion (a good example being the citation of this post, that claims to list the "Top 10 Reasons Obama Voted Aginst the Illinois Born Alive Act" but, in fact, only lists quotes of Obama talking about abortion, and not the bill). It may be impossible for them to see how the two differ, because they feel so strongly about the latter. And I, being not the greatest debator of all time, couldn't find the words to make them see the common ground between us, and the misperceptions that both sides were bringing to the table. It being an internet debate certainly didn't help things, either.

Westen lays it out like this:
No one truly knows what's in the mind of God, and I just don't like the idea of government telling a woman or couple when they should or shouldn't start their family based on somebody else's interpretation of Scripture. We need to find the common ground on abortion, reflecting our shared moral beliefs, not the beliefs that divide us. We are all united in the belief that we should do everything we can to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, teen pregnancies, and abortions, starting with instilling in our children both the values and the knowledge to make good choices. And we all agree that abortion shouldn't be used as a form of birth control and shouldn't be an option late in pregnancy except when the mother's life or health is in danger. I could go on and talk about how misguided I think our currently policies are that deny access to birth control to women and teenagers in our inner cities, which does nothing but perpetuate the cycle of poverty, stop young people from getting an education and fulfilling their God-given potential, and make it more likely that they'll have children before they're ready to be good parents. But the main point I want to make is that in this country, we don't force one person to live by another person's faith. This should be a personal and moral issue, not a political one.
I don't pretend to know the mind of Barack Obama, but I do know that I agree with the statements and sentiments laid out above, and I at least suspect that he would, too. I just wish he, and other Democrats, independents, and any other pro-choice persons, would learn to express these feelings in such an eloquent and even-handed way. Leave the accusations behind--no more cries of "baby killer!" or "fascist!" from either side. Then maybe we can all come close to something approximating an equitable solution for an issue that is and always shall be incredibly complicated and difficult.


illusory tenant said...

Good piece, Emily. And Illinois already had this law on the books.

As for the Badger Blogger thread, what a breathtaking concentration of logical fallacies.

Maybe that's what the five conservative bloggers in Canada are on trial for.

(That's a load of crap, incidentally. There are no such trials.)

Emily said...

I wondered about that. It's been hard to find unbiased stories about the Canadian bloggers thing. The HR commission strikes me as a little shady, but I have yet to find anything really damning. You wouldn't happen to have any links/sources on that, would you? I'm curious.

illusory tenant said...

A Muslim group filed a complaint with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal against Maclean's (the Canuck equivalent of Time/Newsweek) for publishing an excerpt from a book by Mark Steyn, alleging some sort of "hate speech" theory.

A Maclean's reporter covered the hearings here.

It's pretty funny. While it's true there are mechanisms in Canada for challenging "hate speech," I'll be very surprised if this complaint isn't ultimately dismissed.

Trust me, one would be extremely hard pressed to find many Canadians who support censoring Maclean's.

But you'll find lots who think Mark Steyn is a sensationalist idiot.

Anonymous said...

Here is what the righties know, if Roe vs Wade is to be overturned it will take a Democratic Prez.

There is no way Roe vs Wade will be overturned with McCain. The righties are very well aware that Obama can be pushed to the right, look at FISA, off shore drilling etc. They also know infanticide ups the ante a little bit, it just sounds so much worse.

Watch, after the convention of course, Obama move to the right on this issue. If abortion is ones motivating issue, McCain just may be the better choice. While his stance is not great, the opposition to him acting on it will be.

Emily said...

Pro - I don't know that I agree with you that Obama would go that far to the right on this issue, but regardless, I don't believe the rest of the country would let him (or McCain, you're right) - especially if polling is to be believed. The majority seems to be in favor of keeping Roe v. Wade.

Steve said...

was driving yesterday, and heard a song on the radio from a while ago, by Everlast...and got me thinking about this issue..the last line, right there.. that is what everyone who goes crazy on the pro-life side needs to read.

Mary got pregnant from a kid named Tom who said he was in love
He said "don't worry about a thing baby doll I'm the man you've been dreamin' of"
But three months later he said he won't date her or return her call
And she sweared god damn if I find that man I'm cuttin' off his balls
And then she heads for the clinic and she gets some static walkin' through the doors
They call her a killer, and they call her a sinner, and they call her a whore

God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in her shoes
'Cause then you really might know what it's like to have to choose

The Lost Albatross