Senator Obama: "Present" on Choice
by Mdm Prz 08, Wed Apr 02, 2008 at 01:03:02 AM EDT
Here's a simple yes or no question for a politician:
"Do you believe minors should be required to get parental consent -- or at least notify their parents -- before having an abortion."
As a staunchly pro-choice Democrat, the answer to this question is very important to me. I want the answer to be an unequivocal "no," possibly followed by the rationale that brought the politician to that conclusion, but that is not required.
Senator Barack Obama (or a staffer, as he tells it) got the answer right the first time in 1996 in a political survey filled out for the Independent Voters of Illinois -- Independent Precinct Organization, an Illinois voter group from whom he sought an endorsement.
Sadly, he had a quick change of heart (apparently the staffer got some things incorrect) and submitted an amended version (previous link) the very next day. His "no", now had a qualification:
"Depends on how young -- possibly for extremely young teens, i.e., 12- or 13-year-olds."
Okay, so now it's a "no" except under specific circumstances. While it's not the exact answer I'm looking for, I can deal with this - there seems to be some sense in having 12-13 year olds notify their parents.
Personally, I disagree. I believe females this young who become pregnant, are most likely the victims of incest or rape, or lack the parental involvement to justify the legislation. Further, if a 12-13 year old girl feels she needs an abortion I don't believe anybody, even a parent, has the right to force a girl or woman to maintain a pregnancy. In addition, girls this young are the most likely to have severe complications during pregnancy, which further worries me. Lastly, I'm sure we've all heard of the stories coming out of Costa Rica, Columbia, Bolivia of young girls molested, impregnated and denied abortions. I just believe that a right to choose is a right to choose, no matter how old you are. But again, while I disagree, I find this answer palatable.
Sadly, Senator Obama also does not claim this answer any longer.
Politico reports the Obama campaign's stance on the answers given in the aforementioned questionnaires:
"Sen. Obama didn't fill out these state Senate questionnaires -- a staffer did -- and there are several answers that didn't reflect his views then or now," Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for Obama's campaign, said in an e-mailed statement. "He may have jotted some notes on the front page of the questionnaire at the meeting, but that doesn't change the fact that some answers didn't reflect his views. His 11 years in public office do."
Okay, so what is the Senator's view on parental notification?
Senator Obama was elected to the state senate with the help of the endorsement from the IVI-IPO garnered by the questionnaires he now disowns. While in the state senate in 2001, he voted "present" on two parental notification abortion bills (HB 1900 and SB 562), leaving us again in the dark about where he stands on this issue.
Now, some, including his campaign, would have us believe that these "present" votes on this issue were something orchestrated by Planned Parenthood in Illinois, and that he just went along with it. What they don't tell you is that it was his idea to have people vote "present" instead of "no."
Speaking to ABC News as Obama was preparing to join Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and the wife of Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., in addressing Planned Parenthood's national conference in Washington, D.C., Sutherland said Obama approached her in the late 1990s and worked with her and others in crafting the strategy of voting "present." She remembers meeting with Obama outside of the Illinois Senate chambers on the Democratic side of the aisle. She and Obama finished their conversation in his office.
"He came to me and said: 'My members are being attacked. We need to figure out a way to protect members and to protect women,' " said Sutherland in recounting her conversation with Obama. "A 'present' vote was hard to pigeonhole which is exactly what Obama wanted."
"What it did," she continued, "was give cover to moderate Democrats who wanted to vote with us but were afraid to do so" because of how their votes would be used against them electorally. "A 'present' vote would protect them. Your senator voted 'present.' Most of the electorate is not going to know what that means."
While Sutherland was happy to give Obama latitude in voting "present," rather than "no,"she was quick to note that "it's also not a 'yes' vote."
As reported by The Wall Street Journal, some of the specific abortion votes in question include two occasions in 1997 (HB 382 and SB 230) when he voted "present" on bills which would have prohibited a procedure referred to by its critics as "partial-birth abortion."In 2001, he voted "present" on two parental notification abortion bills (HB 1900 and SB 562), and he voted "present" on a series of bills (SB 1093, 1094, 1095) that sought to protect a child if he or she survived a failed abortion.
This troubles me. Pam Sutherland is the president and CEO of the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council, and she articulates exactly what Obama was seeking to do. A 'present' vote protects you. It's like taking a stance without taking a stance - no one can hold you accountable. It's the best of both worlds; tell Dems you voted "present" to defeat the bill, and tell Republicans you voted "present" because you're moderate on the issue, or that you agree with them.
Fast-forward to 2004 during his US Senate bid. In yet another questionnaire for the IVI-IPO, he gave an even more evasive answer to the same question:
"I would oppose any legislation that does not include a bypass provision for minors who have been victims of, or have reason to fear, physical or sexual abuse," he wrote.
This is where I begin to have deep reservations and questions about Senator Obama's view on this issue. His answer here is not a yes or a no - this is a stipulation. It means he would vote "yes" to require minors to notify parents if it had the bypass provision. So, he's okay with forcing young girls to remain pregnant, as long as they have not been victims of abuse. A couple of questions Senator Obama, 1) Just how do we determine who has been a victim and who hasn't - a trial, personal testimony (how is this enforceable)? 2) Why are you now in support of requiring minors to notify parents when you were previously against it? 3) Are we to take your previous "present" votes on this issue as a "no" vote?
I will probably never get answers to those questions being that just last year, he changed his answer again, this time in a questionnaire for a nonpartisan reproductive health group.
Q: Does Sen. Obama believe adolescents should have the right to choose abortion, or should they be required to seek their parents' consent? Why or why not? Are there any circumstances that might make a compelling case for waiving the parental consent requirement?
A: As a parent, Obama believes that young women, if they become pregnant, should talk to their parents before considering an abortion. But he realizes not all girls can turn to their mother or father in times of trouble, and in those instances, we should want these girls to seek the advice of trusted adults - an aunt, a grandmother, a pastor.
Unfortunately, instead of encouraging pregnant teens to seek the advice of adults, most parental consent bills that come before Congress or state legislatures criminalize adults who attempt to help a young woman in need and lack judicial bypass and other provisions that would permit exceptions in compelling cases.
This answer is very vague and noncommittal and seems to lean toward "yes" more than "no."
Senator Obama argues the way it is currently being handled is inappropriate, yet, he does not offer a new solution or policy approach (this seems to be his standard way of "answering" questions).
It seems as though he is advocating young girls should be required to notify their parents, but if for some reason they can't, they should notify other family members or pastors. What is not clear is if the minors need the permission of the these alternate adults, or are these alternate adults allowed to usurp the legislated authority of the parent, and if so, why give the authority to the parents in the first place?
In short, his answer is purposefully vague, a non-answer, a "present" vote.
Senator Obama needs to provide a forthright and clear answer to this question. No more taking "cover" because he is "afraid" to be "pigeonholed" to a position.
The President cannot vote "present." The President has to make tough decisions on tough issues. Senator Obama has not yet proved he can do either. If Senator Obama wants my vote, he needs to earn it. He won't get my vote by dancing around issues and hoping I assume he holds my view.
If he cannot to commit to answers, I will exercise my right to choose by voting "present" in November should he be on the ballot. I'll leave it to him to interpret what that means.