Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama uses tradition to justify dismissing abortion rights

Vanessa at Feministing directed me towards this shining gem from President Obama:
As you know, I'm pro choice. But I think we also have a tradition of, in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government funded health care. Rather than wade into that issue at this point, I think that it's appropriate for us to figure out how to just deliver on the cost savings, and not get distracted by the abortion debate at this station. (Emphasis mine)
What. The fuck.

So, we're giving up the health and independence of millions of women in the name of tradition now? Is that how it's going to be? Where is our History and our Tradition going to get us if all we do is use that tradition to justify oppressive, sexist choices? If we use them to excuse giving into pressure from anti-abortion forces?

Tradition is nice, as a narrative force. As an ornamental facet of government, it helps us to remember our roots and take pride in our national accomplishments. It establishes a sense of continuity. It's a Christmas tree. It's an Inaugural parade. It's a reminder of the past. I'm not against it, but traditions are personal and should only be a significant factor in decision making for individuals.

When it comes to government action, its only use is in rituals and celebrations. Tradition is rooted in how things were, and we need to attend to the fierce urgency of now - the women who need abortions, or might need it, and don't have the privilege that I would have of relying on my family for financial help if needed.

But tradition wasn't acceptable justification for having an all-white all-male all the time government, or in any matter of policy. It's an empty word that is unacceptable as justification for legislation - especially when that legislation constitutes lives lost or saved. In matters or women's lives, in matters of health, it is a trite way to say "wait your turn."

I have a tradition myself. It's a tradition of not being pregnant. I expect his support on that. That's just how things work in the town of my uterus.

Obama has a tendency to justify oppression and unfair acts with tradition, with his religion, and then also make the claim that he's "pro-choice" or "a fierce advocate for equality". It's bullshit. It's bullshit, and we need to hold him responsible when he tries to empty his obligation to the people who voted for him. Obama's tradition seems to consist of using words that mean a lot to us - "pro-choice", "equality" - to garner votes and support, and then bailing when it's time to pay up.

I know it's early in his administration, but we've been losing ground for eight years. Now is not the time to quit pushing or wait or turn. Now is the time for those who support abortion rights to let Obama know that we're not going to put up with this. This is our right, and we need support on it. We're the ones who elected Obama. It's time to let him know, as Shark-Fu said, that the bill is past due, and make our collection calls.

Are you pissed, too? Go here to tell someone about it.

Further reading on health care at Angry Black Bitch (quoted above). A Canadian perspective on health care can be found at Womanist Musings.


  1. It seems obvious to me that it's not for the sake of tradition, but for the sake of fighting one uphill battle rather than two.

    Am I missing something, or all the questions just rhetorical faux-ignorance? (I'm a little fearful that I'll come off as faking ignorance here, I'm not, I just can't read between lines. Sorry.)

    If funding abortions is the difference between getting enough congresser & senators to support public healthcare and not, should he really prefer the principled road to the pragmatic road?

    (Of course, I ask from a place of privilege, being Canadian, where abortions were flatly illegal when public healthcare was introduced, and are now completely unrestricted by law, and the political landscape is such that all three major parties refuse to discuss the issue at all. Ignore me if it's appropriate, I guess.)

  2. Hi Brian, thanks for stopping by. You're absolutely right that these questions are rhetorical; they're a part of an argument, after all. I don't see where the faux-ignorance thing is coming from, though.

    You're right that Obama is doing soas to not fight two hard battles at once. That doesn't excuse it. This is an issue that needs protection, that needs fighting for, right now. This is the pragmatic road to me - it's not pragmatic to pretend to protect the reproductive health for women while sacrificing autonomy over their own body.

    I understand that abortion is hard to fight for, but he promised to protect it and fight for it. And I'm going to hold him to it. He promised big, big things, and this is one area where I won't wait my turn or accept compromise.

    The Democrats - whom are mostly pro-choice - have a stranglehold on Congress. There's no reason not to use his bully pulpit to protect something he promised again and again to protect. A small faction of the party is pressuring him, and he's caving. It's silly and weak.

    Thanks for asking such intelligent questions and giving me a chance to clarify my position!

  3. It seems obvious to me that it's not for the sake of tradition,

    I didn't adaquetely address the "obvious" bit - you're absolutely right that this is a transparent attempt to excuse politicizing. But it's the argument he's offering, and so that's the argument I'm attacking (mainly).

  4. Err, I mean, you know that the reason he's giving is not the real reason he's doing it, but you pretend to be ignorant of it, hence "faux-ignorance". It seems like a perfectly reasonable rhetorical technique, I think the audience failed here, not the speaker.

    I'll admit I don't know the American political landscape on abortion well enough to know how costly including it in public healthcare would be. (Hell, truth be told, I don't really know the Canadian one that well either, since a lot of it depends on everyone being ignorant of the situation, and politicians steadfastly refusing to discuss the subject where anybody's likely to hear them.) I really couldn't begin to make judgement on whether this is a necessary concession.

    The final outcome, if a public healthcare system goes through like this, (if I gather all these facts correctly) is that the abortion situation wouldn't change, or do you anticipate a backslide for some reason?

  5. It would stay the same, I believe, but after eight years of Bush the abortion funding/access situation is not good. Obama promised advances, promised more support to women who need abortions, but he's sticking to Bush-era policies. It's the same reason that any continued funding of abstinence-only policies pisses me off.

    But what I'm mainly responding to here is his condescending rhetoric. If it's a political sacrifice, at least respect us enough to tell us that. Don't give us bullshit about "tradition" when we need it now, you know?

    Am I making sense? Great questions, by the way. Health care is so confusing that very few really understand it, so don't be ashamed of some ignorance there.

  6. Oh, well fair enough about the rhetoric being condescending. If you think that he thought you'd believe it, I agree it is. I had kind of assumed it was supposed to be unspoken but beknownst to all that it was a lie. "This is simply for political expediency, I'm going tack on abortions as soon as I can" isn't the rhetoric to win over the anti-abortion crowd, I wager, and probably wouldn't produce an expediency.

    I'll admit I don't really know much about how the abortion situation in the States has looked since ... uh, Nixon is Rowe v. Wade, yes?

    For what it's worth, as one of those godless foreign communists you hear so much about on FOXNEWS (well, probably not you), I can't imagine I've cause to be ashamed of not knowing the American system. (That said, with respect to abortion I don't know much about the Canadian situation, except that there're no legal restrictions, but sometimes practical ones (one might need to travel a thousand kilometres to procure one, if you live in Frobisher Bay or Tuktoyaktuk or where have you), but even these I don't know the details of)

  7. "I have a tradition myself. It's a tradition of not being pregnant. I expect his support on that. That's just how things work in the town of my uterus."

    There's a fabulous bit of rhetoric.

    Great post. I really like Obama, but I think people are distracted by the sheen of scintillating promises and there's the danger that he'll be allowed to slide backwards. It's frustrating because the women who need funding for abortion are probably also the women who need abortion the most. The cost of raising a child for under-supported mother and child both, all the costs (physical, emotional, monetary, etc) is enormous, and much bigger than the cost of abortion.

  8. this is always going to be a touchy situation, no matter what slice of the situation we are talking about. Sort of like the above comment, I am a supporter of Obama but I think his downfall is that he is trying to please everybody. I feel he talks in a way where he is trying to not make people upset but he needs to realize they are anyways so then he can come out and be concrete in what he is trying to say.

    I know I may not comment on everyone of your posts but let me say that I do read and love them. A lot of times they give me topics if I ever decide to make an intelligent post instead of a "listen to this" post haha

  9. Jess & Mr. O - Thanks so much for the kind words and great feedback!

    (Your "listen to this" posts are awesome, Mr. O - that is your strength and you should play to it).


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