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Obama's Abortion Order--Skeel

Ever since Ronald Reagan first banned funding to international organizations that promote or provide abortions in developing countries and elsewhere in 1984, this executive order has been the most visible culture wars prize of our presidential elections. Like many culture wars battlegrounds, it has heavy symbolic significance. Unlike many, it also has significant real world consequences.

My wife asked me if I felt as though I’d been kicked in the stomach, as she did, when I heard that President Obama had rescinded the order (which had been reinstated by Bush after having been removed by Clinton) yesterday. I didn’t, since there was never any doubt that this would be one of Obama’s first actions if he was elected.

For me at least, President Obama’s order didn’t bring a kick in the stomach so much as a seeping sense of sadness. Obama softened the effect slightly by waiting until the day after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, rather than trumpeting it on the anniversary. But the fact is that our government will be funding organizations that facilitate the deaths of unborn children in other countries. The order wasn’t unexpected, but that doesn’t make it less saddening.


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Comments ( 11 )

Me too--sadness. So much for his uplifting rhetoric--rather empty, isn't it? And for someone who thinks decisions about rights for the unborn are above his pay grade--he seems to have decided here, hasn't he?

Sadly, I think my comment to the previous post applies here as well. In the prior post, it was theory. Here, it's application, indicating the underlying mindset that leads to the facts observed.

You say "our government will be funding organizations that facilitate the deaths of unborn children in other countries."
The truth about the executive orders is this. President Obama rescinded two of President Bush's actions: 1) a ban on U.S. funds to international family planning agencies that use their own money for abortions, abortion counseling or advocacy, and 2) a cutoff of financial support for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
These executive orders do not make federal money available to promote abortion. They do use our money to promote birth control, which is against the extreme stance of the Vatican (and probably the source of all this misinformation). Any abortion or abortion education funding comes from their own money not our government.
The UNFPA estimates that some 200 million women worldwide would like to delay or prevent pregnancy, but are not using effective contraception. They cannot afford it or are not knowledgeable about it. Universal access to family planning could save the lives of 175,000 women each year and prevent the deaths of 1.8 million children under age 5, the UNFPA maintains. It would also dramatically reduce the number of abortions.
Family planning for poor women is necessary.

I didn't think it would need to be pointed out, but clearly money given to an organization that funds abortion, even if the money is specifically given on the condition that it not fund abortions (is this the case? doubtful) frees up money to fund abortions.

Money is the most fungible of all resources...

I think the sadness is fairly one-sided. There's a lot of difference between the way Obama did this and Clinton in 93. I hope he is trying to move beyond the gridlock on these issues.

The big issue is FOCA. What will happen there? I expect that Obama will move to figure out a way to reduce abortion numbers, and stymieing FOCA (which is not moving in Congress now anyway) is a part of that. See what happens in coming months as the Obama people try to figure out ways to generate support for family planning.

I noticed there was no mention of the Executive order outlawing torture, by the way. I hope that that mitigated your sadness, somewhat.

There's a lot of difference between the way Obama did this and Clinton in 93.

Are there any substantive differences?

I don't know what will happen with FOCA, but Obama said signing it would be a top priority for him.

I think it's important to realize though, that by overturning the Mexico City Policy, thousands of women worldwide will receive the health care they sorely need. With family planning services and access to contraception, millions of unintended pregnancies can be prevented-- meaning 22 million fewer abortions globally per year, according to reports.

Better family planning will not only alleviate demand for abortion, but will also help with child mortality (especially a problem when women are unable to space out pregnancies) and help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Steve Waldman parses this issue really well over at Beliefnet: http://blog.beliefnet.com/stevenwaldman/2009/01/is-repealing-the-anti-abortion.html

"Are there any substantive differences?"

Well, in politics, appearance is often substance. WJC signed the order on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and made it part of a larger fanfare of a pro-choice agenda. Obama issued a muted and relatively ambivalent statement about Roe on the anniversary, and waited till the Friday evening after the anniversary to repeal the Gag rule. Here's a good piece on it:


And still no one acknowledges that Obama said "we won't torture people anymore." It's also part of that respect for human life thing, I believe. Sigh.


It'll be great if Obama changes torture policy, but torture, while important, is a relatively minor issue (we don't torture 1.2 million people per year).

I agree with Ross Douthat on the symbolism issue. Appearance is not substantive--it's a way to portray Obama's substantive act (changing the policy) and make it appear moderate to people who aren't invested in the issue. There were no substantive differences in Obama's handling of this issue, except to the extent that he handled it in a way that will make it more politically palatable to people who don't particularly care about those affected.

Kristin, I think it's hard to argue that any number of prevented lives mitigates the evil of ended lives.

I was hoping we wouldn't hear that torture is a relatively minor issue. And, um, he HAS changed torture policy--it's not something about which we have to say "if" anymore. That's what the Exec. Order was about. If you think symbolism is important, I would think that that would make the torture thing even more significant for you, not less.

I think we'll have to wait and see about what he does on abortion. I think jumping all over him on this move is relatively imprudent and impatient. Not that it is surprising--just imprudent and impatient.


I'm sincerely curious to know in what respect one could say torture is not a relatively minor issue compared to abortion, other than the sense in which petty theft and murder are both "evils."

The only two measures that are obvious to me are (1) the gravity of the evil involved or (2) its prevalence. Abortion is clearly a much more serious American political issue on both of those counts--it takes away life, which is the most fundamental of rights, and it is perpetrated by Americans on an unfathomably wider scale.

(Hopefully it's obvious that I'm not, in the first paragraph, equating petty theft and torture; I'm just acknowledging that there's a sense in which every evil might be said to be similar just by virtue of being evil.)

I'm not being snarky; I literally can't think of why you would possibly say "I was hoping we wouldn't hear that torture is a relatively minor issue." Please explain.