Obama, race and abortion


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Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), who's made a career out of making outrageous statements to the media, was back at it again last week.

In the past, Santorum equated liberalism with sex abuse in the Catholic church and said homosexuals have no rights to privacy in their sex lives. His latest verbal bomb, lobbed at President Obama, drew widespread condemnation throughout the media.

He linked race to the issue of abortion and expressed surprise that a black man could be in favor of giving women a choice in their reproductive lives.

"The question is – and this is what Barack Obama didn't want to answer: Is that human life a person under the Constitution? And Barack Obama says 'No,'" Santorum said in a televised interview. "Well if that... human life is not a person, then I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say, 'We're going to decide who are people and who are not people.'"

Later, Santorum elaborated a bit, saying that current law treats fetuses as "property" in the same way slaves once were in the United States, making it more perplexing to him why Obama hasn't taken a stance against abortion.

Don't get me wrong. Santorum's remarks are usually nonsensical and the man himself is a joke – a tool of Christian conservatism and someone who deserves no place in public life.

But I find myself agreeing, at least in part, with his Obama/abortion remarks. The fact that Santorum's remarks drew so much attention and controversy underlines how polarized the issue of abortion has become.

In the 38 years since the Supreme Court made abortions more widely available, debate on the issue has been almost entirely emotional and driven strictly along party lines. If you're a conservative, you're against abortion. If you're a liberal, you're in favor of choice.

But it doesn't quite work that way and I'm upset at both political parties for making it as partisan an issue as, say, national health care or tax cuts for the rich.

The truth is much more ambiguous. There are plenty of pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans, and the issue of abortion itself should not be politicized for personal gain, as Santorum apparently wants to do.

While I'm not in favor of outlawing abortion by rolling back Roe v. Wade entirely, I think there is a legitimate debate to be had on the issue of abortion and the more general issue of respect, or the lack thereof, for life in our society.

While it's not for me to say when life begins, whether at conception or later on, the thought of millions of children being discarded in this nation is very disturbing. Surely there are better alternatives than abortion for women unwilling to raise a child.

I remember going to see a speech by the Rev. Jesse Jackson around 25 years ago. He told a story about a poor black woman in the Deep South, already with too many children, who found herself pregnant again. The father was nowhere to be found.

Should this woman have an abortion? Jackson asked the audience. They responded, "Yes!" Jackson paused and said, "I'm glad she didn't. That woman was my mother and that child she contemplated aborting was me."

For years, Jackson was about the only reliably pro-life politician among liberals. His opposition was a principled one, based on Scripture, his own upbringing and his experience as a community organizer.

He also opposed the death penalty, which only makes sense if you believe in the sanctity of life. To feel otherwise, I think, is hypocrisy. Either you're against the taking of life or you aren't.

Over the years, Rev. Jackson modified his position into one of pro-choice. This evolution upset me because I thought, and still do, that the Republicans shouldn't hold a monopoly on a particular point of view.

As I said, I'm not in favor of a complete ban on abortion – reality is too complex to make such a blanket law – but I think that abortion is a moral sore spot on this nation's conscience akin to, say, racial discrimination, the genocide of American Indians and slavery.

More progressive and liberal politicians should find a way to express their own opposition to the taking of life so that the opponents of abortion have another option besides following the ravings of conservative Republican hucksters.

Santorum's comments are usually nonsensical but the abortion comment actually resonates. Our president is a constitutional law professor with a keen appreciation for history. To say that a black man, even more so than other people, should see the irony of treating human beings as property, well, that's not so outlandish after all.

In the current environment, abortion is an untouchable issue. Any politician would be wise to leave it alone because it brings out such strong emotions. But it's not going away.

Sometimes, the rantings of crazy people actually reveal truth. Santorum, for once, has stumbled upon the truth and his words deserve further discussion.


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