Am I Blue

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Obama recently gave an interview in which he seemed to back off his broad support of abortion rights, saying, “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.” In “clarifying” his remarks, he said this:

My only point is this — historically I have been a strong believer in a women’s right to choose . . . 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 . . . 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.

I think it’s probably true that there are women in the world who have abortions for what others might think are “bad” reasons — perhaps even because they’re “feeling blue.” But the whole point of being pro-choice is not that you think all abortions are a great idea, it’s that you don’t think government should restrict access to them based on the reasons why a woman wants one. The Obama co-sponsored Freedom of Choice Act seems to recognize this, and defines “mental health” broadly enough allow for maximum discretion on the part of doctor and patient.

What’s more, the idea that the number of women who get abortions — especially late term abortions — because they are merely in “mental distress” or “feeling blue” is large enough to warrant a distinct ban tells me that Barack Obama has not talked to a lot of women who’ve had to make that choice. The characterization reminds me, unpleasantly, of the right-wing canard that some women “use abortions as birth control,” i.e., run around having unprotected sex and then blithely show up at the clinic whenever their luck runs out. Because, you know, it’s so fun and convenient.