- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2008




Much has been said this campaign season about Barack Obama’s ability to mobilize the “youth vote,”that politically desirable demographic of 18-29 year olds. Yet despite his large and often fervent support among twenty-somethings, abortion policy represents at least one area where Mr. Obama does not have his finger on the pulse of the young. Today’s youth are socially liberal, to be sure. But they are dissatisfied with the fruits of their parents’ laissez-faire abortion regime, and they are increasingly skeptical of that social libertarianism which so often pits the happiness and welfare of adults over and against their own children.

After compiling data from several Pew Research Center polls, the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this year that “18-29 year olds are consistently more likely than the general adult population to favor strict limits on abortion.” This trend is also evidenced by developments in the popular media. While the despondent adolescent song lyrics of the nineties chronicled the dissatisfaction of American youth with a divorce-laden culture, recent films have suggested similar trends with respect to abortion. Some commentators have called it the “Juno” effect, after the hit 2007 movie involving teenage pregnancy in which the main character chooses adoption over abortion after learning from a classmate that her baby has fingernails.

To a pop-culture oriented generation, movies like Juno can awaken and sharpen the moral sense in a way that the most eloquent philosophical argument cannot. Hadley Freeman, writing in The Guardian, bemoaned the fact that Juno “completes a hat-trick of [recent] American comedies” — along with “Knocked Up” and “Waitress—”that present abortion as unreasonable, or even unthinkable — a telling social sign.” That social sign apparently has had little effect on the pro-choice orthodoxy of the Democratic Party establishment, and it is not surprising that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has garnered the customary endorsements from Planned Parenthood and NARAL-Pro Choice America. What is surprising, however, is just how extreme Mr. Obama’s support for abortion has been and how little scrutiny it has garnered.

While in the Illinois State Senate in 2002, for example, Mr. Obama repeatedly opposed a state version of the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. In response to the practice of “live-birth abortion”—the withholding of medical care to an infant that survives an attempted abortion procedure—the Illinois General Assembly sought to clarify, by statute, that “all children who are born alive are entitled to equal protection under the law regardless of the circumstances surrounding birth.” In a speech on the floor of the Illinois state legislature, Mr. Obama explained, in law professor fashion, his opposition to the bill: “Number one, whenever we define a pre-viable fetus as a person that is protected by the Equal Protection Clause or the other elements in the Constitution, what we’re really saying is, in fact, that they are persons that are entitled to the kinds of protections that would be provided to a—a child, a 9-month old — child that was delivered to term.”

With a rhetorical sleight of hand, Mr. Obama redefined a born alive infant as a “pre-viable fetus,” and with it he interpreted the United States Constitution as proscribing a state statute that protects an infant, alive and wholly detached from its mother, from being left in a backroom to die of wounds inflicted during a botched abortion procedure.

In his candor, Mr. Obama admitted that throwing the protection of the law on an infant just seconds after a failed abortion attempt would chip away at the logic undergirding of the abortion regime we now have. If courts were to ponder the essentially arbitrary differences in legal protections given to a child just seconds before and after birth, this blanket prohibition of infanticide, Mr. Obama worried, might be construed as “an anti-abortion statute.” Or, perhaps more likely, this first step might have led to more restrictions on abortion, such as the subsequent 2003 federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban, which prohibits a doctor from partially delivering breach “a living, unborn child’s body” for the purpose of intentionally performing an act — “usually the puncturing of the back of the child’s skull and removing the baby’s brains” — that will “kill the partially delivered infant.” In a speech at Planned Parenthood last summer, Mr. Obama insisted that the federal ban on this grisly procedure was “part of a concerted effort to roll back the hard-won rights of American women.”

Despite his campaign themes of post-partisanship and change, Mr. Obama engages in the most tired pro-choice rhetoric, playing on the fears of women and exhibiting a remarkably audacious support for an abortion policy that can only be characterized as illiberal and, indeed, barbaric. Whether the youth will turn out for Mr. Obama in November remains to be seen. But if his views on abortion become known and understood to a generation that is increasingly more sensitive to public policy issues surrounding human life, we should expect at least some of that elusive cohort of twenty-somethings to lose hope in this year’s ephemeral promise of “a new kind of politics.”

Justin Dyer is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin.

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