Obama: And this is where I think we can find common ground and, by the way I have now inserted this into the Democrat Party platform, is how do we reduce the number of abortions, because the fact is that although we've had a president who is opposed to abortions over the last eight years, abortions have not gone down.*This is false. Abortions in the United States have declined since 2000-2001. The most recent available statistics are for 2005, and the total number of abortions is down 8.1% from 2000 or 6.6% from 2001 using Alan Guttmacher Institute figures (the most complete figures available). Using CDC figures (which are incomplete due to lack of reporting by several states), total abortions are down 2.6% from 2000 to 2004 (year of most recent figures), or 1.7% from 2001 to 2004. From 2001 to 2005, there was a 9.1% decline in the abortion ratio (ratio of abortions to live births) and a 7.0% decline in the abortion rate (abortions per women aged 15-44). These rates of decline have been fairly consistent since 1995, incidentally. (Details and sources for these figures can be found here and here.)
Obama seems to have been repeating a claim circulated by Democrats just prior to the 2004 presidential election. In late 2004, Glen Stassen of Fuller Theological Seminary claimed to have identified an increase in U.S. abortions following the 2000 election of President George W. Bush. The claim was often repeated, including by Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2005. Nonetheless, the claim was false then as well as now; Stassen's conclusion was the result of a flawed and selective analysis of the data, and analyses by both the CDC and the AGI show that abortions continued to decline. (See this page for more details.)
Obama's statement implies or assumes that abortions in the U.S. are largely dependent on presidential policy, which is misleading at best. Rates of abortion in the U.S. are affected by state-level policies, by federal judicial branch actions, by social/cultural trends, by trends in attitudes within the medical community, all outside the control of the federal executive branch. The claim may relate to Obama's subsequent suggestion that expanded social programs are a better means of reducing abortions:
...one of the things that I've talked about is how do we provide the resources that allow women to make the choice to keep a child. You know, have we given them the health care that they need. Have we given them the support services that they need. Have we given them the options of adoption that are necessary. That I think can make a genuine difference.*The claim that expanded government spending on such programs will reduce numbers of abortions is at best a contentious issue in the research literature. Again, the multitude of other influences on abortion rates seem to minimize the influence of such policies. Despite such claims, abortion rates and the fraction of births ending in abortion has declined in recent years, including during the Bush administration.
Q: Have you ever voted to limit or reduce abortions?This position is not supported by Obama's voting record. While a senator in the Illinois state senate, Obama repeatedly failed to support bans on partial birth abortion. In 1997, he voted "present" instead of "yes" on SB 230 and HB 382, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, despite the fact that these bills contained exceptions in the case of threat to the mother's life. In 2001, he voted "present" on SB 1093, 1094, and 1095, pertaining to protecting the life of children born alive after abortions. The Illinois branch of Planned Parenthood had organized the strategy for legislators to vote "present" instead of "yes", intended to deny support to the bills while making the votes more politically palatable, a strategy Obama participated in which permitted him to maintain a "100 percent pro-choice" rating from Planned Parenthood.
Obama: I am in favor, for example, of limits on late term abortions if there is an exception for the mother's health.*
In 2003, as chair of the Illinois Health and Human Services Committee, Obama voted to kill SB 1082, a bill to protect children born alive following abortions. Obama has subsequently claimed that his opposition was because it did not include language to protect Roe v. Wade. However, committee records show that such language was added to the bill, with Obama's support, prior to his vote to kill the bill. When this was pointed out recently by National Right to Life, Obama accused the group of lying and of misrepresenting his record, although an Obama spokesperson later acknowledged Obama voted to kill the bill, citing fears of expanded restrictions on abortion.
After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 to uphold the federal ban on partial-birth abortion, Obama issued a statement criticizing the ruling:
I strongly disagree with today's Supreme Court ruling, which dramatically departs from previous precedents safeguarding the health of pregnant women. As Justice Ginsburg emphasized in her dissenting opinion, this ruling signals an alarming willingness on the part of the conservative majority to disregard its prior rulings respecting a woman's medical concerns and the very personal decisions between a doctor and patient. I am extremely concerned that this ruling will embolden state legislatures to enact further measures to restrict a woman's right to choose, and that the conservative Supreme Court justices will look for other opportunities to erode Roe v. Wade, which is established federal law and a matter of equal rights for women.
This is characteristic of Obama's position on abortion, moderate statements at the Saddleback forum aside.
* Note: Senator Obama's statements are as reported in the unofficial transcript provided by Saddleback Church on 17 August 2008. Slight differences in wording exist between this transcript and other transcripts; for the record, the above quotes as reported by CNN are:
...and this is where I think we can find common ground. And by the way, I've now inserted this into the Democratic party platform, is how do we reduce the number of abortions? The fact is that although we have had a president who is opposed to abortion over the last eight years, abortions have not gone down...
...one of the things that I've talked about is how do we provide the resources that allow women to make the choice to keep a child. You know, have we given them the health care that they need? Have we given them the support services that they need? Have we given them the options of adoption that are necessary? That can make a genuine difference.
I am in favor, for example, of limits on late-term abortions, if there is an exception for the mother's health.
© 2008, 2009 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 12 June 2009.
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