Commentary Magazine


Not Buying It Either

Jan Crawford Greenburg weighs in on Barack Obama’s latest comment on abortion and reaches the same conclusion as I: his exceptionally finely-drawn explanation about his opposition to a mental health justification for late-term abortions still is inconsistent with Roe v. Wade. She writes:

Speaking to reporters on his campaign plane, Obama said mental health exceptions—which are a real battleground issue in the abortion debate–can be “rigorously” limited to only those women with “serious clinical mental health diseases.” He said mental health exceptions are not intended permit abortions when a woman simply “doesn’t feel good.” “It is not just a matter of feeling blue,” Obama said. Here’s the problem with that, and why Obama’s remarks are so startling. Obama is trying to restrict abortions after 22 weeks to those women who have a serious disease or illness. But the law today also covers some women who are in “mental distress,” those women who would suffer emotional and psychological harm without an abortion. This standard has long been understood to require less than “serious clinical mental health disease.” Women today don’t have to show they are suffering from a “serious clinical mental health disease” or “mental illness” before getting an abortion post-viability, as Obama now says is appropriate. And for 35 years—since Roe v. Wade—they’ve never had to show that. So Obama, it seems to me, still is backing away from what the law says—and backing away from a proposed federal law (of which he is a co-sponsor) that envisions a much broader definition of mental health than the one he laid out this week. . . 

It is obvious at this point that Obama is furiously trying to escape the implications of his own words. I don’t for a moment believe he intends to put women to the test of establishing the degree of their mental distress to obtain late-term abortions or to revise the Freedom of Choice Act or to roll back Roe v. Wade. He either didn’t understand what he was really saying in the initial magazine interview or he figured that no one on the pro-choice side would cry foul. The latter is not a bad bet — the pro-choice lobby isn’t, I suspect, about to “out” Obama for his garbled understanding of abortion law or to claim he really isn’t committed to their cause.

What this does show is the depths of intellectual trickery to which Obama will stoop to try to give the impression of moderation. Whether voters are pro-choice, pro-life, or somewhere in between, they may find this effort to fool both sides distressing (provided the media covers it and explains it as cogently as Greenburg does).

But they certainly shouldn’t be surprised. Playing both sides, fudging differences, and denying he is contradicting himself is now standard operating procedure on everything from Obama’s broken pledge on campaign financing to his stances on Iraq. It is one thing to flip-flop, but quite another to lie about doing it. Obama seems to have picked up the habit of doing both.