How The Obama Presidency Normalized Abortion Extremism

How The Obama Presidency Normalized Abortion Extremism

Obama helped transform abortion into a rite of Democratic Party politics.
David Harsanyi
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Last week, 44 Senate Democrats blocked a bill that would have saved babies who survived abortion attempts from negligent homicide. Presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders all voted against Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse’s Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

Moderates, progressives, or socialists, it didn’t matter. Although the bill did nothing to restrict abortion, a yes vote would have been tantamount to admitting that babies subjected to post-22 week abortions are viable, which is something the alleged party of science can’t do.

But while the vote was perhaps the clearest indication of how radicalized the Democratic Party has become on the issue, it’s worth remembering it was the previous administration that normalized this position. Barack Obama, after all, was the first major presidential candidate to argue that unrestricted abortion—or, rather, “reproductive justice”—was one of the “fundamental rights” Americans possess. His administration did everything it could to transform a procedure that ended a life into something to celebrate.

In 2001, 2002, and 2003, Obama opposed Illinois legislation that would have given legal protection to infants who survived abortion attempts. A 2002 federal version of the same legislation had passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate, with only 15 House members voting no. In 2003, only two years away from the Senate, Illinois state senator Obama stated plainly that he believed abortions should be legal in all situations, even late in a pregnancy—a position no other major presidential candidate had ever taken in their careers:

OBAMA: I am pro-choice.

REPORTER: In all situations including the late-term thing?

OBAMA: I am pro-choice. I believe that women make responsible choices and they know better than anybody the tragedy of a difficult pregnancy and I don’t think that it’s the government’s role to meddle in that choice.

Obama never backed away from his position. A man who would argue for state meddling in virtually every aspect of American lives, whose legislation would dictate nearly every health-care choice those Americans made, didn’t believe the state should do anything about abortion, except to keep it legal in all circumstances and subsidize it.

During the 2008 presidential race, these views were still outliers, even on the left. So Obama still had to answer the occasionally tough question. When asked at what point he believed the unborn deserved their “human rights,” Obama, in his standard dissembling, famously said, “Whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity . . . is above my pay grade.”

The president went on to say that “abortion is a moral issue,” that “it’s one that families struggle with all the time,” and “that in wrestling with those issues, I don’t think that the government criminalizing the choices that families make is the best answer for reducing abortions.”

This, of course, was fake humility propped up by the usual Obama strawman. For one thing, the future president, who spoke for eight years as if nothing was above his paygrade, had no intention of “reducing abortions.” During the 2008 campaign, Obama told Planned Parenthood Action Fund that his first act in the White House would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act—a bill that would codify the right to abortion by eliminating all federal and state-level restrictions on the procedure. The National Organization for Women explained that the Freedom of Choice Act would “sweep away hundreds of anti-abortion laws [and] policies.”

In 2008 and 2012, Democrats could expunge the word “rare” from the party platform position on abortion. If abortion is one of the most “fundamental rights” Americans could possess, according to Obama, why should it be rare? The Democratic platform went on to support a woman’s “right” to choose an abortion without mentioning any exceptions for late-term abortions or anything else. In fact, Democrats added taxpayer subsidies to their list of demands:

The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way.

When the Democrats declare that abortion is a right “regardless of ability to pay,” they don’t mean the Democratic National Committee was going to set aside a checking account to pay for hundreds of thousands of abortions. They meant the “government” should pay. They were talking about you, the taxpayer.

Obama was not content with pushing abortion as a fundamental right here at home. It took the president only three days in office to repeal the pro-life “Mexico City Policy.” Under that policy, the U.S. government was banned from funding any euphemistic “family planning services” that provided abortions. Ronald Reagan had introduced the policy in 1984 in Mexico City.

In 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States would fund efforts to promote “reproductive health care and family planning” as a “basic right” around the world. This push included abortion. The plan would move funding from programs that had been earmarked for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria prevention to population control. Speaking at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Clinton promised to help ensure that “all governments will make access to reproductive health care and family-planning services a basic right.”

Citizens of countries where freedom of assembly, religion, and speech are still a dream were no doubt a bit perplexed by the Obama administration’s idea of a basic right.

By his second presidential candidacy, Obama’s faux rationality on abortion had vanished — as had his party’s. During 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Democrats threw themselves all in for abortion, with full support from the administration. No longer did they keep a veneer of diversity of opinion on the issue. President Obama “believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care,” explained the first lady to grand cheers, except of course through Obamacare the administration was dictating a good many of our choices and asking that we subsidize other people’s choices — including, she intimated, abortion.

The Obama administration would end up suing anyone who didn’t want to participate in this right, including doctors and the Little Sisters of the Poor.

A one-time Republican named Maria Ciano assured the crowd that if voters were kind enough to give the president a second term, “our right to make our own most personal decisions will be safe for another generation.” Nancy Keenan, then president of one of the nation’s largest pro-abortion groups, NARAL Pro-Choice America, attacked Republican hopeful Mitt Romney: “We cannot trust Mitt Romney to protect our health. He would repeal Obamacare, taking away our access to better maternity and prenatal care, and the law’s near-universal coverage of birth control. And we cannot trust Mitt Romney to respect our rights.”

“Rights,” again, had nothing to do with free speech, religious liberty, or any explicit right that’s laid out in the Constitution. In the Democrats’ lexicon, “rights” is almost always an unlimited right to an abortion.

Abortion was mentioned—explicitly or indirectly—in almost every speech made during those three days. A number of speakers based their entire case for Obama’s reelection on the fact that the president would protect the right to dispose of human life. For anyone who understood what these advocates were really fighting for, the Democratic Convention was a jarring experience.

Obama and the progressive Democrats used their slick and nimble marketing operation to make the Republicans look like radicals, but by the standards of American public opinion, it is the Democrats who are the extremists on abortion. Most Americans, if you believe polls, deem abortion morally wrong, even if it is legal. Most Americans believe late-term abortions should be restricted. Most Americans believe in parental consent in the case of a minor. Most believe that a married woman should notify her husband before procuring an abortion. Most claim to oppose the use of public funds to pay for anyone’s abortion. Obama opposed every single one of those regulations, yet he was never framed as the radical on the issue.

Americans aren’t one-issue voters, and Democrats rarely pay a price for their highly unpopular position on abortion. As we sit here, a man who described, in detail, how an infant would be murdered under a Virginia bill that protected doctors who participated in the post-birth termination of a once-viable, once-healthy infant for nearly any reason, is still the sitting governor of his state. Not a single national Democrat has demanded his resignation over those remarks. Why would they? This position is now the norm in the Democratic Party.

David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist. He is the author of the book, First Freedom: A Ride Through America's Enduring History with the Gun, From the Revolution to Today. Follow him on Twitter.

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