Barack Obama offered another “inartful” statement that appeared to reverse his position on late-term abortions. In an interview with Relevant Magazine, Obama said that “mental distress” shouldn’t be a qualifier for a second- or third-trimester abortion — reversing his own vote on the partial-birth abortion ban. By yesterday, Obama had hit reverse again to get back in a campaign press conference.
Obama started this tempest with this inartful response:
Strang: Based on emails we received, another issue of deep importance to our readers is a candidate’s stance on abortion. We largely know your platform, but there seems to be some real confusion about your position on third-trimester and partial-birth abortions. Can you clarify your stance for us?
Obama: I absolutely can, so please don’t believe the emails. I have repeatedly said that I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don’t think that “mental distress” qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.
That reverses his own position on late-term abortions, where he has championed mental-health exceptions for late-term abortion bans. Sensing an obvious backlash, Obama then tried to clarify his position with the press. The Swamp has the retreat quote:
My only point is this — historically I have been a strong believer in a women’s right to choose with her doctor, her pastor and her family. And it is ..I have consistently been saying that you have to have a health exception on many significant restrictions or bans on abortions including late-term abortions.
In the past there has been some fear on the part of people who, not only people who are anti-abortion, but people who may be in the middle, that that means that if a woman just doesn’t feel good then that is an exception. That’s never been the case.
I don’t think that is how it has been interpreted. My only point is that in an area like partial-birth abortion having a mental, having a health exception can be defined rigorously. It can be defined through physical health, It can be defined by serious clinical mental-health diseases. It is not just a matter of feeling blue. I don’t think that’s how pro-choice folks have interpreted it. I don’t think that’s how the courts have interpreted it and I think that’s important to emphasize and understand.
Historically, courts have adopted a very expansive view of mental-health threats, which is why abortion opponents fight against the vague definitions used in such bills for exceptions to bans. A competent Constitutional law scholar would know this and would not have offered that specific formulation to Relevant without understanding its meaning. Even more than gun rights, abortion has been the biggest Constitutional issue in the US since Obama was in grade school. How can he not be prepared to speak clearly on this issue?
Either Obama tried to get away with a tack back to the center and got caught, or he’s ignorant of all but the most superficial aspects of the issue. I suspect it’s the latter more than the former; if he wanted to tack back to the center, he would have chosen a more significant venue than Relevant for the shift. If it is the latter — if he’s demonstrated ignorance on yet another topic in his supposed field of expertise — then at some point the question of Obama’s competence anywhere except the dais has to be asked.
Cassus vestitus, indeed.