But Warren, to his credit, didn’t pose a metaphysical question, or a biological one. He asked a legal question: “At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?” Obama tried to dodge by saying that from a “theological perspective” or a “scientific perspective” the issue is “above his pay grade.” But Warren asked a more narrow question, and one that any politician who votes on abortion laws should be able to answer. And of course, as a supporter of Roe and Casey, Obama does have an answer: He thinks that a baby acquires rights when it’s born – well, perhaps depending on how and why it happens to be born – and lacks them at every juncture before birth. He just didn’t want to come out and say it.
There’s two pieces in here. 1)The charge of the dodge and 2)The infanticide charge which Douthat I think being too cute by half references but throws in a perhaps to cover himself.
On the first, I actually think Douthat is (more or less) right that Obama dodged the question. One could argue I suppose that the distinction between a theological/scientific answer regarding status of a fetus and a legal one is without any real difference–i.e. the Warren legal route is simply a back door way of asking the same question. Because who is going to believe a fetus has rights and not believe from a philosophical and/or religious point of view its a full human being. But that aside, I think Douthat’s interpretation that Obama believes the individual has rights at birth is correct.
On the second, I find Douthat’s surfacing of what was originally a fringe-smear depressing (and beneath the quality of his blog, which I think is otherwise high).
This is classic Rovian stuff (the guy who started was Rove’s main outreach guy for Catholics). It is then published through right-wing trash publications like Regnery (publishing David Freddoso’s hack job book). Then pushed through 527s, the blogs (I expect it from HotAir but not Douthat) in order to get into the mainstream press. The candidate (this time Obama) then has to decide whether he ignores it and lets it fester or has to say in public–I’m not a baby killer. Either one is an awful place to be in. Either way the other side wins. As soon as you have to say the “I’m not X….baby killer, homosexual, pornographer, fill in the blank” ur toast.
Where have we ever seen this one before?
The latest round of which (see the HotAir link and/or Douthat’s link to Freddoso’s post from The Corner) is that the Illinois State Legislature version of the Bill did have a neutrality clause in it (hence Obama’s response that he voted against it because it could threaten Roe v. Wade is bogus). But that is as is common in this type of thing, mainly a red herring. Focus on one micro element/response to the charge, find some (possible or actual) flaw in one slice the response and then say the other one is lying to cover up the truth (i.e. the smear).
Here’s Seth Colter Walls (on August 4th before the Warren interview)–my emphases:
The most well-publicized portion of that bill would have required that any “viable” fetus surviving a late-term abortion receive sustaining medical care (something which opponents of that bill said was already required by a 1975 bill in the state)…
One significant problem with Hudson’s [the McCain supporter who started the infanticide smear] logic is that it requires comparing apples to oranges. The Illinois and federal bills differed not only in language, but regulatory impact. Critically, the Illinois version of the bill that Obama opposed was also bundled with other proposals that would have put doctors at risk of prosecution, which led the Illinois State Medical Society to oppose the measure along with Obama.
I’m not a legal expert, but prosecuting doctors sounds pretty much to me like attacking elements of Roe v. Wade (or even Casey). This version of events (not the one Douthat or Freddoso supplies) lends weight to Obama’s argument that the bill was an attempt by religious right in Illinois (under Republican rule at the time) to drive a wedge, forcing Democrats to either vote in favor of a bill that contained provisions they disagreed with OR be labeled as child killers. Which is exactly what is now of course happening, again lending credence to Obama’s rebuttal.
So whether or not Obama was correct with the precise issue of the neutrality element of the Roe v. Wade charge vis a vis comparing the Illinois Law of 2003 versus the Federal Senate 2002 Legislation and/or the Illinois 2005 Law (which passed after Obama had gone to the US Senate), his basic counterpoint seems to hold. i.e. That he voted due to the inclusion of other elements in the bill (not the life saving treatment piece), believed the law already (correctly) protected aborted fetuses who survive, and therefore to call him infanticidial is disgusting.
[Sidenote: Has anyone figured out whether the interpretation of the 1975 Illinois law did in fact already protect viable fetuses? If so, that pretty much would end from a rational pov this whole discussion–of course it’s not rational and not intended to be so (when you call a guy a baby killer in a political campaign rationality has long since gone bye bye).]
And this gets I think to a central point (to bring it back to Douthat’s original assertions). If from the pro-life end, the rhetorical maneuver is to argue when the fetus/infant has rights, then it is legitimate I think to ask (in reverse): if one holds that the fetus has rights then such an individual needs to answer what s/he legitimately thinks are appropriate legal measures in response to having said rights violated. i.e. Should women who perform abortions be put in jail? Doctors? Or not jail time but fines? And if jail times, what lengths would be appropriate–felony? misdemeanor? Three strikes and your out? Multiple infractions leading to felony charge? Obviously if an individual has rights and those rights are infringed/violated then it is incumbent upon society to restore justice to the legal and moral order.
As someone who (like the majority of the US population) does not think abortion should be made illegal but also favors a series of fairly strict restrictions–like Obama for example no third trimester abortions unless the life of the mother is involved–this is why I get so turned off by the (so-called) pro-life movement. As a Christian to boot I find it so repugnant. That it’s politicized only adds another layer of putridness to the issue.
Obama is more pro-choice than I want him to be (than I myself am), though he has seriously considered a pro-life VP (in Tim Kaine) which I think is a good thing. Nevertheless his position on abortion is not mine. I find his talk about reducing abortions as a common ground actually sincere (as opposed to nice political talk), has included more pro-life language in the Democratic Platform. And instead of getting a nod or two, is accused of murdering infants.
Really? People really think he wants surviving babies to die? A guy who has kids? And people wonder why we never will get to any non-insane discourse on the subject. And this is where anyone who wants to question elements of abortion is immediately (and not without sadly some reason) decried as a lunatic. Because of these fringe nutjobs. Again I find thoroughly disappointing that Douthat amplified this.
I have a great deal of respect for individuals who legitimately oppose abortion. That discussion can be had. But this is pathetic and does nothing but further undermine their own efforts and debase our culture.