Young Obama, the state, the unborn

obama2Give credit to Ben Smith and Jeffrey Resner of The Politico. The reporters unearthed a 1990 Harvard Law Review article written by none other than its president, Barack Obama. The story provides an interesting early glimpse into Obama’s thinking about abortion and fetal rights, as the authors explain:

The six-page summary, tucked into the third volume of the year’s Harvard Law Review, considers the charged, if peripheral, question of whether fetuses should be able to file lawsuits against their mothers. Obama’s answer, like most courts’: No. He wrote approvingly of an Illinois Supreme Court ruling that the unborn cannot sue their mothers for negligence, and he suggested that allowing fetuses to sue would violate the mother’s rights and could, perversely, cause her to take more risks with her pregnancy.

The subject matter took Obama to the treacherous political landscape of reproductive rights, and — unlike many student authors — he dived eagerly into the policy implications of the court decision. His article acknowledged a public interest in the health of the fetus, but also seemed to demonstrate his continuing commitment to abortion rights, and suggested that the government may have more important concerns than “ensuring that any particular fetus is born.”

Please read the second half of last sentence again. Obama writes that the government should be neutral to the value of prenatal human life or treat it as a secondary interest.

That’s a big statement. I think that the reporters needed to explain or elaborate if possible whether Obama mentioned why he reached this conclusion. Why should the government be value-neutral about pre-natal life, but value-positive about post-natal life?

If Obama never elaborated, which I imagine he did not, the reporters should have said so.

That’s not much to ask — a few baby steps, you might say. In other words, the article needed more Obama on this topic. His words are the story.

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  • http://www.chipsmith.blogspot.com/ Chip

    Give credit to Ben Smith and Jeffrey Resner of The Politico. The reporters unearthed a 1990 Harvard Law Review article written by none other than its president, Barack Obama.

    Actually, Obama was not the president of the Harvard Law Review when he wrote this case note. He was elected president the following school year.

    Obama writes that the government should be neutral to the value of prenatal human life or treat it as a secondary interest.
    I think that the reporters needed to explain or elaborate if possible whether Obama mentioned why he reached this conclusion.

    Obama has never hidden the fact that he is pro-choice. The idea that the rights of “prenatal human life” do not necessarily trump all other rights is almost the definition of being pro-choice. Do reporters need to include a long, detailed explanation of the thought process that leads a politician to their conclusion any time they mention whether the politician is pro-life or pro-choice? Most stories about politicians would have to be 10 pages long if they were required to do this every time.

    When you ask for more quotes from Obama’s case note, I wonder if you read the entire article. The last third of it is a summary of his note that is chock full of quotes. It include his concern that allowing fetal-maternal lawsuits could result in increasing the number of abortion that take place. It even include a much fuller quote that includes the phrase you seemed to be shocked to read.

    I guess I wonder about how newsworthy a 1990 law review of an obscure lawsuit is in the first place, much less question why the report about that case note does not delve into religious issues. I know there is a tendency to think that any mention of abortion is automatically a religious issue, but when abortion is a side issue in a case note about a negligence lawsuit in a Law Review journal?

    Many of the writers at GetReligion justifiably complain about how the media cannot seem to mention religion without jumping right to the political implications whether it is warranted or not. Aren’t you doing the same thing in the opposite direction?

  • http://www.geocities.com/hohjohn John L. Hoh, Jr.

    I had to wonder about the whole premise of the piece, that of the possibility a “fetus” (by definition an unborn person or lump of growing maternal flesh, considering your viewpoint) could sue his/her/its mother. What, are lawyers dredging clients from the womb now?

  • Jerry

    This topic reminds me of gnats and camels. The story is not what happened in 1990 but what is happening today and what that implies for the future. Could any of you have 4 or 8 years ago imagined the DNC Interfaith Gathering? including the comment that

    it was one of the most electric interfaith gatherings I have ever attended. It showed the religious and political diversity within the Democratic party and testified to the ability to gather together even with our differences. However the potency of the event left me wondering if the event will remain so unscripted in the future.

    Read the story and see why. And look at the coverage to see obvious bias from Fox news’s clearly pro-Republican coverage to more balanced coverage from the MSM (I don’t count Fox as “mainstream” based on their overt bias).

  • Stephen A.

    Read the story and see why. And look at the coverage to see obvious bias from Fox news’s clearly pro-Republican coverage to more balanced coverage from the MSM (I don’t count Fox as “mainstream” based on their overt bias

    Please don’t go there. The seething hate drips from the mouths of MSNBC and CNN against Republicans, their viewpoints and their worldview, especially their view of religion.

    It goes far beyond bias, it’s anti-democratic and downright scary sometimes. FOX leans right (and toward Tabloid trash) while the MSM *JUMPS* to the far left, reflexively and obviously, and ALL sides pander to the corporate elites and multinationals.

  • Jerry

    Stephen A: The “funny” thing is that once place I hang out is convinced that CNN leans right and can cite many examples. And, in fact,the anti-CNN venon there matches yours but from a very different perspective. But it’s likely that, as you said, the pandering is toward corporate elites which skew Republican.

    I also don’t think that CNN is biased against religion so much as ignoring it unless there’s something sensational to report especially relating to the media staples of sex, hypocrisy and abuse of power which in turn, brings in ratings and thus money.

  • str1977

    Chip,

    “The idea that the rights of “prenatal human life” do not necessarily trump all other rights is almost the definition of being pro-choice.”

    Actually no.

    The definition of pro-choice is either that prenatal human life has no right or that its rights always come out last, taking the backseat o the interests of born humans. Note, interests not actual rights.

  • str1977

    Jerry,

    I see no venom in Stephen’s post, only in your first post.

    Maybe the people that are complaining about CNN leaning to the right are even further left than CNN is. Left and right are hollow terms and a matter of perspective.

  • Dave2

    str1977 wrote:

    The definition of pro-choice is either that prenatal human life has no right or that its rights always come out last, taking the backseat o the interests of born humans. Note, interests not actual rights.

    I doubt the definition of ‘pro-choice’ says all that — I seriously doubt the definition perorates on the distinction between interests and rights. I’d say it focuses more on thinking abortion should be legal. (Merriam-Webster seems to agree, FWIW)

  • Stephen A.

    Jerry, as an example of bias, CNN’s coverage of the “Warriors of God” was laughably biased. They trashed Christian fundamentalists as deluded whackos, trashed Jews in Israel as if they were warmongering automotons, but Buddhists? Peaceful, persecuted and delightfully cute (even though some of them -”justifiably” – want to fight back using force.)

    I think str1977 has it right – the extreme Left (the MoveOn and Michael Moore crowd) are upset that CNN occassionally tells both sides of a story. CNN is famous for putting four liberal panelists on a show to “objectively” analyze a story – or barring that, put on a weak, poorly prepared conservative with five hot-tempered liberals who will dominate the conversation. (Although I must say, Wolf Blitzer TRIES to have some objectivity and balance.)

    The Leftists are probably upset that even the conservative was included, because they are DARING to “give them a platform.”

    To be fair to CNN, MSNBC is probably far worse these days about bias (Olberman was supposedly a “fair” journalist and worhty of covering the GOP debates earlier this year – dripping with snark.) Check out this vid in which an MSNBC reporter admits to losing all objectivity when it comes to Obama: http://www.breitbart.tv/?p=26294

  • http://www.chipsmith.blogspot.com/ Chip

    Jerry,

    I see no venom in Stephen’s post, only in your first post.

    Jerry said, “And look at the coverage to see obvious bias from Fox news’s clearly pro-Republican coverage to more balanced coverage from the MSM (I don’t count Fox as “mainstream” based on their overt bias)”

    and

    Stephen said, “The seething hate drips from the mouths of MSNBC and CNN against Republicans, their viewpoints and their worldview, especially their view of religion.”

    Where is the venom?

    Before this gets completely derailed into a Fox News vs MSNBC vs CNN bias battle royal, does anyone find a religious ghost in the story? Should any mention of abortion in a news report (although that’s a loose description of this article) automatically cover the religious angle?

  • http://www.chipsmith.blogspot.com/ Chip

    “The idea that the rights of “prenatal human life” do not necessarily trump all other rights is almost the definition of being pro-choice.”

    Actually no.

    The definition of pro-choice is either that prenatal human life has no right or that its rights always come out last, taking the backseat o the interests of born humans. Note, interests not actual rights.

    I did not mean that it was a literal definition. Maybe I should have used the word “practically” rather than “almost.” But Dave2 is correct about the weakness in your definition. The bigger problem with your statement is that it assumes the worst about everyone on the other side. Sure, there are some who are pro-choice who would argue that “prenatal human life” has no rights, just as there are some on the pro-life side who are most interested in controlling women’s sexuality. But when you assume the worst about those who disagree with you, then it will be impossible to persuade them that they should change their minds and their hearts. Isn’t that what those of us who are pro-life need to be doing?

  • John

    Why is it shocking to anyone that we use birth as a dividing line when it comes to determing some legal rights issues?

    It is not clear to me why that is at all controversial.

    No one – as far as I know – is suggesting a fetus is a fully legal human being. Or rather, if so, I have some back tax credits due me.

    The only debate is about how to apply the laws to a fetus. And there you can have reasonable grounds for taking different positions.

  • Sage

    Jerry said: But it’s likely that, as you said, the pandering is toward corporate elites which skew Republican.

    Can you prove that? Bill Gates, the biggest corporate elite in my neck of the woods, and his pal Warren Buffett are big DNC contributers. T. Boone Pickens appears to have moved left. How about some names of the corporate elites who skew Republican?

  • Dave

    Chip wrote:

    Many of the writers at GetReligion justifiably complain about how the media cannot seem to mention religion without jumping right to the political implications whether it is warranted or not. Aren’t you doing the same thing in the opposite direction?

    Yes, and Mark does that repeatedly if the topic is abortion or something related.

  • Harris

    The really interesting thing about the note is that it is not signed — something that commentators at Volokh Conspiracy note indicates a future view away from academics or clerkships. Eugene Volokh also commends the article for its legal craftsmanship. Perhaps that’s the real point readers should take away: Sen. Obama is a craftsman. But then we knew that, too.

  • Linda

    The article below is what none of the media have exposed about John McCain. While dissecting every word Obama has spoken about abortion, the very biased GetReligion also ignores:

    JOHN McCAIN PRO LIFE? WHAT A JOKE

    http://www.newswithviews.com/baldwin/baldwin465.htm

    By Dr. Chuck Baldwin August 22, 2008

    Once again, “pro-life” Christians are doing back flips to try and justify their compromise of the life issue by trying to convince everyone (including themselves) that John McCain is truly pro-life. However, these same people know in their hearts that John McCain shares no fidelity to the life issue in any significant or meaningful way. Like many in the Republican Party, McCain’s commitment to life is about as deep as a mud puddle.

    Dare I remind everyone that the “pro-life” GOP controlled the entire federal government from 2000 to 2006 and nothing was done to overturn Roe v. Wade or end legal abortion-on-demand? When George W. Bush took the oath of office in January of 2001, over one million innocent unborn babies were being murdered in the wombs of their mothers every year via legal abortions in this country. And when George W. Bush leaves office in January of 2009, over one million innocent unborn babies would still be murdered in the wombs of their mothers every year via legal abortions in this country. Eight years of a “pro-life” President and six years of the “pro-life” GOP in charge of the entire federal government and not one unborn baby’s life has been saved. Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land, and abortion-on-demand is still legal in America.

    Had John McCain and his fellow Republicans truly wanted to end legal abortion, they could have passed Congressman Ron Paul’s Sanctity of Life Act. Year after year, Dr. Paul introduced this bill, and year after year, it sat and collected dust in the document room on Capitol Hill.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanctity_of_Life_Act

    How can John McCain, and his fellow Republicans in Washington, D.C., look pro-life Christians and conservatives in the eye in 2008 and expect that we take them seriously when they say that they are “pro-life”? If the GOP had truly wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade and end legal abortion-on-demand, they could have already done it. They controlled the White House, the U.S. Senate, and the House of Representatives for six long years, for goodness sake. The reason they did not do it is because they did not want to do it. They merely want to use “pro-life” rhetoric as a campaign tool to dupe gullible Christian voters every election year. And the disgusting thing about it is–it works.