Your recent discussion of "mental distress" among women who must choose late-term abortions set off alarm bells among many of your supporters. Myself included. Your meaning was convoluted and indistinct, and it was too easy to interpret your words as either pandering to anti-choice religionists or reneging on your commitment to pro-choice policies, or both. The thought of our Democratic nominee losing resolve on protecting a woman's private right to choose is not simply upsetting, it's chilling. The subject is already so loaded with emotional triggers that it's hard to keep from reacting on that level alone.
But. Before we accept an excerpt from an interview as the substitute for an entire career of voting to support a woman's choice, numerous statements you've made in support of a woman's right to choose, or take the excerpts as the substitute for a legislative action like co-sponsoring the Freedom of Choice Act, let's take in more information on what late-term abortions are all about.
It's no wonder late-term abortion is a topic few contemplate willingly or easily. Terminating a pregnancy is almost unimaginable at 22-24 weeks, and a horrifying prospect after that. And yet, there are women who face this situation every day, whether through ignorance/incapacitation of some kind, poverty, lack of access to an abortion provider, or diagnosis of a fetal genetic anomaly that wasn't detectable earlier.
So the first Go Read It is this one: an astounding diary by AnnRose at DailyKos that talks about why and how women undergo late-term, or "mercy" abortions, written by a healthcare professional and abortion-rights activist. She supplies many facts (such useful things). And some of the stories told in the comments will break your heart.
The second Go Read It is this piece by Kate Michelman and Frances Kissling asking the crucial question: "Are Democrats Backpedaling on Abortion Rights?" Both are longtime activists, authors, and advocates for a woman's right to choose; both are also "strong feminist Obama supporters." Michelman was head of NARAL, Kissling is currently a visiting researcher at the feminist think tank Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
Michelman and Kissling point out that you, Senator Obama, should unequivocally reject the "triangulating" calculation of "abortion reduction" rhetoric (whose central mouthpiece seems to be Jim Wallis of Sojourners) if you hope to maintain or increase strong support from women, who, mirroring the general population, form a pro-choice majority.
In a recent interview with ABC News, Wallis said he planned to talk to his "good friend" Barack Obama about an abortion reduction plank, and said he had discussed the idea with party chairman Howard Dean and had the support of at least one member of the Platform Committee, the Rev. Tony Campolo. "Abortion reduction should be a central Democratic Party plank in this election," Wallis told ABC News. "I'll just say that flat out."
Sojourners, the organization headed by Wallis, does not include contraception as part of its abortion reduction strategy, and Democrats for Life, the political group most vocal about abortion reduction, refused to endorse the family-planning provisions of the bill it initiated, "Reducing the Need for Abortion Initiative," also known as the Ryan-DeLauro bill.
Wallis should stop moralizing about "abortion reduction" to women and activists on the issue. They're already well aware, and work to ensure, that successful family planning strategies and women's health policies aim to keep abortion safe, legal and--ideally--rarely needed.
And *you* should stop listening to him or the Daschle-Durbin school of accommodating the right by "sacrificing the mental health exception in order to appear reasonable in the context of the post-viability abortion debate," as a Guttmacher Institute researcher labeled the tendency.
This is the third Go Read It: "Abortion Restrictions and the Drive for Mental Health Parity: A Conflict in Values?", by Cynthia Dailard of the Guttmacher Institute. She calls out the right-wing move for what it is: a used anti-choice hankie for the 1.4% of women who undergo a late-term abortion, as cover to sweepingly eliminate under an anti-choice penumbra safe legal abortions for the remaining 88% who terminate in the first trimester.
Senator Obama: please stop. It's inauthentic to who you are and a potentially fatal piece of unnecessary miscalculation. And it unnerves those of us who are familiar with your strong pro-choice record.
Michelman and Kissling point out that a far more productive focus of your energies is the passage of two current pieces of legislation. They urge you to support
Two perfectly good bills [...] languishing in Congress. One, the Prevention First Act, was introduced by Sen. Clinton; the other, the Reducing the Need for Abortion Initiative by Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Rep. Tim Ryan, a pro-life Democrat. These bills need to move forward and perhaps be consolidated. (The Clinton bill does more for family planning, and the Ryan-DeLauro bill more for women who want to continue pregnancies.)
The Prevention First Act is one of several women's pro-choice health initiatives stuck in Congress (listed here). You can track its progress here. The Ryan-deLauro Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act's progress is charted here.
In short, to co-opt some of your soaring language on how we're falsely polarized by blue state/red state divisions, and to extend the literary conceit to describe the complexity of the seemingly simple right/left, anti-choice/pro-choice split:
There are some in the pro-choice movement who believe life is sacred and would never choose an abortion for themselves, but fight to protect that right so others can use it. And there are some in the anti-choice movement who believe no one should have access to an abortion but may have had one themselves (or would get one if they needed it), and were thankful for the option.
We are complicated, and filled with paradox. We may neatly label gestation into thirds, but life will impose grey areas and sometimes it's all we can do to choose the least worst act. We, meaning legislators, abortion providers, advocates for and against, are contradictory and complex. And most of all, the women who have abortions face life decisions that are as complicated and paradox-filled and destiny-altering as confronts any epic hero--because a woman's life is a story, and she is the sole author determining beginning, middle, and end. Her body, her circumstances, her right.
Please leave the "mental health exception" alone, because it's handing anti-choice activists a wedge to hack you apart. They're all too happy to have you practice the Politics of Contronyms when you use their framing of the issue and language; like the word 'cleave' that means 'to sunder' and 'to adhere,' you enact more separation than unity with it. And worst of all, you're divided from your better self.
Sincerely, and with utmost wishes for your successful election to the presidency,
Jane Chu Public
Cynematic blogs at P i l l o w b o o k. She is a stalwart Obama supporter. Because McCain is not an option.