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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Obama and Hillary on Reproductive Rights

posted by on February 28 at 12:58 PM

So I have a piece up on RHReality Check comparing Hillary and Obama on reproductive rights. Although I think either candidate would be light-years better than any Republican on reproductive issues, my position remains the same as it’s always been: Both Clinton and Obama talk a good game on women’s right to control their own bodies, but Clinton has made it more of a priority both in her campaign and as a senator. (As Melissa McEwan points out here, it might be easier to know where he stands if he had, say, a page on his web site devoted to women or reproductive rights—but hey, a candidate has to have priorities.)

Today, Zuzu at Feministe points out a statement Obama made in Iowa that gives me, as a pro-choice voter, cause for concern. The statement was in response to a man who wanted to know what Obama would do to protect the “thousands of innocent, sweet babies [that] are being killed every day through what we call abortion.”


I think that the American people struggle with two principles: Thereís the principle that a fetus is not just an appendage, itís potential life. I think people recognize that thereís a moral element to that. They also believe that women should have some control over their bodies and themselves and there is a privacy element to making those decisions.

Yes, some control—a position that’s consistent with his statement ion the Senate floor, in response to a question about whether teenagers should have the right to get abortions, that the choice to abort or not “generally is one that a woman should make.” Back in Iowa, and still in response to the innocent, sweet babies question, Obama continues:

One area where I think we should have significant agreement is on the idea of reducing unwanted pregnancies because if we can reduce unwanted pregnancies, then itís much less likely that people resort to abortion. The way to do that is to encourage young people and older people, people of child-bearing years, to act responsibly. Part of acting responsibly Ė Iíve got two daughters Ė part of my job as a parent is to communicate to them that sex isnít casual and that itís something that they should really think about and not think is just a game.

Iím all for education for our young people, encouraging abstinence until marriage, but I also believe that young people do things regardless of what their parents tell them to do and I donít want my daughters ending up in really difficult situations because I didnít communicate to them, how to protect themselves if they make a mistake.

Yes, you may say, but Obama clearly supports comprehensive sex education and the right to choose—the fact that he hedges on those positions and couches his response in right-wing rhetoric when responding to a right-wing questioner shouldn’t matter.

Here’s why it does: 1) Endorsing abstinence-only education in public schools—even as part of a larger strategy in which the government encourages parents, and adults without kids, to take responsibility—is endorsing a failed system that has done nothing to reduce the teen pregnancy rate or the rate of STDs and abortions. 2) Ninety-five percent all Americans have had sex by the time they get married. Isn’t it time for the next Democratic president to acknowledge that instead of embracing the failed model of “abstinence until marriage”? 3) Rhetoric is important. The government, under Bush, already has an official policy encouraging “people of child-bearing years to act responsibly”—it’s called adult abstinence until marriage, and the federal government is spending millions of dollars a year to promote it. If Obama doesn’t support the policy, he shouldn’t talk about unmarried adults “acting responsibly.”

Yes, Clinton did call abortion, “in some cases,” a “tragedy.” But assuming Obama is the frontrunner now, I think all thinking Democrats should be holding his feet to the fire for hemming and hawing on issues that should be central to any Democratic candidate’s platform and message.

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ECB - It seems like you're not even making an effort to read these comments thoroughly. Obama clearly doesn't lend any support to abstinence only education or the current Bush policy. In fact, he clearly states that we need more than abstinence education.

I'm all for keeping our candidates honest on the issues. But don't we have to be honest first?

Posted by ugh | February 28, 2008 1:07 PM

Erica you've GOT TO BE KIDDING.

Just because Obama doesn't use Baby Boomer Womanese when describing Reproductive Rights doesn't mean he's against them.

Obama is not a white woman, he'll never use the verbage you'd prefer. That doesn't mean his goals (reproductive rights, comprehensive sex education) are not the same.

Posted by Jason | February 28, 2008 1:10 PM

Erica, I have agreed with most of your HRC defenses, but I fail to see your logic here. Saying "try to wait until marriage, but if you don't, here's how to not get knocked up/std's" is not "abstinence-only" sex-ed (which is clearly a failed policy). I don't see any difference between what Obama is saying and the comprehensive sex-ed platforms of every other progressive/liberal office-seeker in the country.

Posted by Acolyte | February 28, 2008 1:11 PM

he continues his quote as, "I donít want my daughters ending up in really difficult situations because I didnít communicate to them." i think it is more than clear that he is talking about parents educating their children, not the schools. you are over-reaching here.

Posted by konstantConsumer | February 28, 2008 1:13 PM

Holding either candidate's feet to the fire on this issue will just give fodder to the GOP in the general election. I'm sorry, but we have much bigger problems in this country right now than reproductive rights. As you admit, both of the Dems will be much better than McCain on this issue, so if you make them take a stronger stand now, you are setting them up for the inevitable attacks from the right come time for the general. For heaven's sake, just be happy we've got two strong candidates for once.

Posted by fribster | February 28, 2008 1:15 PM

I completely agree with the comments above. I think reading this far into Obama's dialogue during a question and answer period (by the way, Obama has shown time and again that speaking on his feet is not his strong suit)is wrong. He clearly defines a balanced plan that includes both ENCOURAGING abstinence and sexual education, which I think is a policy that will work anywhere in the nation.

Posted by Sean | February 28, 2008 1:17 PM

Erica you're right about Obama: he is far different from you. Where you believe it's good politics to go out of your way to pick fights with anybody who is not in lockstep with your doctrines, Obama goes out of his way to understand and acknowledge a range of positions.

Posted by elenchos | February 28, 2008 1:17 PM

I'm sorry... but this argument just doesn't cut it at all. If you hate Obama and think that he's a fraud, that's great. But parsing statements in this way is just fucking absurd.

Posted by bma | February 28, 2008 1:21 PM

Oh Vagina O'Reilly. A lot of media whining, but not a lot of journalistic contributions.

Posted by Rye | February 28, 2008 1:22 PM

did they both not receive the same 100% rating from NARAL? if the issue is the issues, not the rhetoric, then leave it at that. finely parsing out language and selectively taking parts out of context to prove a flimsy point doesn't do anyone any good.

and your reflexive rejection of language like "abstinence before marriage" is intellectually lazy. just because that was the hallmark of the bush approach to reproductive rights does not mean it is completely without merit, especially when it is a small part of a much bigger picture. if that were all he were arguing for, i would agree with you. the fact that you disregard the rest of that sentence betrays your agenda. just let it go.

Posted by brandon | February 28, 2008 1:34 PM

Yeah, it's really "smart" when Hillary "reframes" the debate on abortion by saying we need to prevent the unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Somehow, when Obama does it, he's George W all over again and babies end up with herpes in their eyeball.

So, here's my point. Your Hillary defense posts are as desperado as her campaign.

Posted by Snooze | February 28, 2008 1:35 PM

Abstinence has always been a part of comprehensive sex education and it always will.

Posted by keshmeshi | February 28, 2008 1:35 PM

Thank you for this post ECB. I have been missing your inane half thought out posts lately.

This like all the others lives up to the bar you have set as a hypersensitive clintonite.

Do you honestly think that Obama would do anything that would hurt a woman's reproductive rights? I don't think you do at all which makes your post even lamer.

This brightened my day.

Posted by cbc | February 28, 2008 1:38 PM

Lol, ECB, how transparent you are.

So, what are the Planned Parenthood Votes and NARAL/PAC ratings for them.

Yup. He gets 100 percent.

... sad ... so very very sad ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 28, 2008 1:43 PM

ECB- Why are you touchy about his centrist triangulating rhetoric? Aren't you on board with "post-partisanship?"

Cut the guy an infinite amount of slack, please.

Posted by Big Sven | February 28, 2008 1:54 PM

"Research shows that the primary reason that teenage girls abstain is because of their religious and moral values. We should embrace this -- and support programs that reinforce the idea that abstinence at a young age is not just the smart thing to do, it is the right thing to do. But we should also recognize what works and what doesn't work, and to be fair, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs."
Clinton in 2005

Posted by giffy | February 28, 2008 1:59 PM

@5 - "I'm sorry, but we have much bigger problems in this country right now than reproductive rights."

Your MOM. My health insurance stopped covering my birth control, I have to drive 3 hours to get to the nearest under-funded Planned Parenthood, I'm married and my pharmacist won't dispense the morning-after pill to me...reproductive rights are a HUGE issue right now.

Oh wait, were you just offering to fund my next child? Because I already have a very high-maintenance special-needs toddler, so if you're going to fund my next one, how about you just adopt them too - I'm too tired.

What's that? You want me to abstain from sex then? I don't particularly want to do so, thanks for making my sexual choices for me...although the stress of the situation does lower my libido quite nicely, so at least there's that working for me.

We use condoms and prayer, because another baby will bankrupt us (and between you and me, I'm not sure my marriage could take it). Since our first child was conceived while using condoms, however, you can see why I'm a little anxious about the whole thing.

Okay, back to bashing poor Erica now...

Posted by j4zz3rgrl | February 28, 2008 2:22 PM

Actually, contrary to the current meme, he does have a page on women's issues:

Posted by Em | February 28, 2008 2:25 PM

I have to agree with the comments thus far. Obama is merely pointing out the obvious. Talk about abstinence can be part of sex education (along with a healthy dose of realism that the abstinence talk won't "take"). It's part of being a responsible parents, You don't have to be a right-wing idealogue to see that. Obama is a genius at pointing out the common ground that people on opposite sides share. It's part of his whole "common sense" ethos, and what I like about him.

Posted by Anne | February 28, 2008 2:26 PM

I find nothing unreasonable about his statement. Notice that right after the part you bolded he says:

"but I also believe that young people do things regardless of what their parents tell them to do..."

So you're what, criticizing him for acknowledging reality? You are really reaching at this point, Erica.

Posted by Hernandez | February 28, 2008 2:40 PM

So not only did ECB extend Obama's comments into something he never said (sometimes called lying, but I'd be a sexist if I said that), she was wrong about Obama not even having a page on his site?
Wow. Was there anything in this post that got vetted?

ECB's entire closer, the 2nd- and 3rd-to-the-last paragraphs are based on the assumption that "encouraging abstinence until marriage" = "abstinence-only education". Obviously, no one could possibly think that, so you're caught twisting someone's words. Again.

BTW, what do you suggest we do in this case? Mandate that abstinence can never be taught in schools? Nice idea: shall we hand a massive stick to the Republicans on this issue now, or wait until later when it can do the most damage to the D ticket? Good grief.

Posted by torrentprime | February 28, 2008 2:48 PM

Erica, now you're just being a goddamned shill. Shut up already and let Hillary's campaign die with dignity instead of with bullshit.

Item number one on Obama's Civil Rights issues page:

Pay Inequity Continues: For every $1.00 earned by a man, the average woman receives only 77 cents, while African American women only get 67 cents and Latinas receive only 57 cents.

Posted by K | February 28, 2008 2:55 PM

Obama talks about abstinence education to people who think it's a good idea. Then, he throws in a "but I also believe that young people do things regardless of what their parents tell them to do." This is how you win votes.

Remember, telling conservatives how stupid they are doesn't win votes. In fact, it galvanizes their opposition to you. This is how Bush won twice.

Posted by Mahtli69 | February 28, 2008 2:59 PM

Minor wording issues like that are making a mountain out of a molehill.

There won't be a significant difference in the abortion policy between either candidate.

Posted by King Rat | February 28, 2008 2:59 PM

@17 - best post in this thread. Thank you.

Posted by Geni | February 28, 2008 3:03 PM

Clearly Obama's actual voting record on social issues pales in comparison to the fact that he absent-mindedly inserted the word "some" in a sentence somewhere.

Look, ECB, if you want to vote based on minor semantic quibbling, so be it, but you're the one constantly whining about Obama not being substantial, for fuck's sake. Meanwhile, you consistently ignore all of his actions in favor of trivial shit like this. Could you please spare us some of your future efforts to find excuses not to like Obama?

Posted by tsm | February 28, 2008 3:03 PM

For fuck's sake - I thought we were over this shit from you. Back to the same old same old.

NARAL and Planned Parenthood have no problem with him - or we would have heard it. The groups that have trouble with him have trouble with his penis, not with his position on choice - and that's not enough for me to vote against him.

ECB, Hillary will lose. She cannot win a national election against John McCain. She cannot win pink or purple states. If she's the nominee, you'll have pro-life judges - are your concerns on this issue really so substantial that you'll risk that?

Posted by Ed | February 28, 2008 3:10 PM

The depressing part is that after Obama wins the nomination, ECB is going to get on board and try to "help" with more of her own special brand of logic directed against McCain.

Posted by elenchos | February 28, 2008 3:12 PM

Oh yeah - glad to see that you've rejected one of the Clinton's themes.

"3) Rhetoric is important."

Yes it is.

Posted by Ed | February 28, 2008 3:12 PM

@28 - you think so? I see her going on about this for months to come, whining about how Obama doesn't care about women every time his press office issues some statement on abortion on his website that's in ten-point font instead of twelve.

Posted by tsm | February 28, 2008 3:17 PM

#17, nice off topic post. I fail to see how the candidates would address your issues differently than one another.

Posted by w7ngman | February 28, 2008 3:47 PM

Oh, Erica. While you're at it, why don't you go yell FIRE! in a crowded movie theatre?

I've dedicated a lot of time and energy (not to mention charitable contributions) to the pro-choice movement over the years. Like you, I am a pro-choice voter.

Senator Obama gets high marks from all the major pro-choice organizations for good reason. It is worthwhile to note that Obama supports stem cell research, which is a major cornerstone in the future of reproductive rights in this country.

Seriously, you are really grasping at straws.

Posted by kerri harrop | February 28, 2008 3:51 PM

sloggers. Quit feeding the ECB.

Posted by heywhatsit | February 28, 2008 4:11 PM


I look forward all morning to my daily ECB post. If we don't feed her, she'll DIE! Not going to let that happen.


She won't attack Obama while he's campaigning against McCain. She's insane, not evil.

Posted by elenchos | February 28, 2008 4:18 PM

@31 - I was responding to the assertion made in "@5" that we have much bigger problems in this country right now than reproductive rights. I disagree.

Posted by j4zz3rgrl | February 28, 2008 4:56 PM

Sorry to double post - I was pulled away before I could finish my thought.

I think it *is* on topic to point out one of the reasons why ECB is so assertive that we need to see just how the candidates come down on reproductive rights - it's sucking out there for lots of women, and by extension lots of families, workplaces, our nation's economy, etc.

Smack down the original post all you want - if Obama is better on reproductive rights than was stated, by all means please correct ECB. But don't do it by saying she shouldn't be bringing this up at all.

Posted by j4zz3rgrl | February 28, 2008 5:17 PM

Why do you still have a job? You are obviously incapable of any real thought. You sound as shrill and desperate as Hillary. Do you even believe this shit anymore, or are you just arguing for the sake of arguing?

Posted by Julie | February 28, 2008 6:21 PM

My god, Erica, you are completely worthless as a jornalist!

Obama DOES have a page on his site devoted to Women. And under the sub-sections labeled "Reproductive Choice" it states:


Supports a Womanís Right to Choose:

Barack Obama understands that abortion is a divisive issue, and respects those who disagree with him. However, he has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving womenís rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as President. He opposes any constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in that case.

Preventing Unwanted Pregnancy:

Barack Obama is an original co-sponsor of legislation to expand access to contraception, health information and preventive services to help reduce unintended pregnancies. Introduced in January 2007, the Prevention First Act will increase funding for family planning and comprehensive sex education that teaches both abstinence and safe sex methods. The Act will also end insurance discrimination against contraception, improve awareness about emergency contraception, and provide compassionate assistance to rape victims.

ECB, if you can't even be bothered to source-check Melissa McEwan's claims before you repeat them verbatim (And she's lifting them incompletely from, I can only conclude that you are either an unprincipled hack or an untrained tool.

In either case you are not a journalist!

Hey, Erica, I hear the Stranger is looking for a political reporting intern -- that's about up to your speed!

Posted by Timrrr | February 28, 2008 6:26 PM

Wow. This is the second post I've seen TODAY where you deliberately misinterpret or misrepresent facts. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Posted by Mike | February 28, 2008 6:55 PM

j4zz3rgrl at 17, I am a woman involved with a local reproductive rights oragnization. What Seattle (or greater-Seattle-area) pharmacist refuses to dispense Plan B?

Em at 18, there is an even clearer URL for Obama's positions:

Posted by Hm | February 28, 2008 8:30 PM

j4zz3rgrl at 17, I did not mean to offend or offer to fund your children. I believe that reproductive rights are incredibly important. My point was simply that the difference between Barack and Hillary on this VERY IMPORTANT issue is so minute, if it exists at all, that it would be unbelievably stupid for someone who feels as you do about this issue to force the two of them to one-up each other to the point that they alienate everyone else in the general election and we end up with McCain, who we can all agree is much, much worse than either of them on this VERY IMPORTANT issue.

Posted by fribster | February 28, 2008 8:44 PM

this post is like the crazy on the PI's comment threads, so far gone it makes no bloody sense.

Posted by twig | February 28, 2008 9:05 PM

Is the word cunt not allowed in this context?

Posted by ecce homo | February 28, 2008 9:08 PM

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