Last week I noted that Beliefnet‘s Steve Waldman listed Sen. Barack Obama’s “pay grade” answer at the Saddleback Forum as one of the reasons he’s struggling with the evangelical vote. He also cited the Obama campaign media buy of a staunch abortion rights ad that didn’t mention anything about abortion reduction. The Politico is running a list of the eight top gaffes from this campaign season. Guess what’s not on it?
But even though Politico doesn’t view Obama’s abortion answer as a gaffe, he does. He said so on This Week with George Stephanopoulos in an interview that needs to be highlighted. I don’t have the transcript yet (this will take you right to the relevant questions) but Mike Allen has an early report up, also at Politico:
Barack Obama says his answer about abortion at the Saddleback Church forum was “probably” too flip.
During separate televised interviews last month, Pastor Rick Warren asked the two presidential candidates when a baby gets human rights. Obama replied that the question is “above my pay grade,” while John McCain won love from the right by saying quickly, “At the moment of conception.”
Now, Obama tells ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an interview taped for “This Week”: “What I intended to say is that, as a Christian, I have a lot of humility about understanding when does the soul enter into . . . It’s a pretty tough question. And so, all I meant to communicate was that I don’t presume to be able to answer these kinds of theological questions.”
In the ABC interview, Obama goes on to give the answer he wishes he’d given: “What I do know is that abortion is a moral issue, that it’s one that families struggle with all the time. And that in wrestling with those issues, I don’t think that the government criminalizing the choices that families make is the best answer for reducing abortions.
“I think the better answer — and this was reflected in the Democratic platform — is to figure out, how do we make sure the young mothers, or women who have a pregnancy that’s unexpected or difficult, have the kind of support they need to make a whole range of choices, including adoption and keeping the child.”
A few things. Kudos to Allen for correctly reporting that the question was not about when human life begins but, rather, when human rights begin. We’ve noticed more than a few reporters flubbing this.
And I’m glad that This Week provides a forum for Obama to express more of his views. Incidentally, pro-life Democrats at the convention in Denver said they had tried to include in the platform a statement that abortion is a moral issue. While they thought their chances were good since both Obama and Hillary had made statements about this, they were shot down. Anyway, Stephanopoulos doesn’t follow-up on any aspect of Obama’s answer. For instance, it would be great to ask what ensoulment has to do with human rights. Or it would be great to find out why Obama believes the question of when human rights begin is a theological question.
Who knew that ensoulment would be such a major news story this year? It’s a major angle not only for Obama’s approach to answering the human rights question but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s claim about when Saint Augustine thought life began. Catholic bishops were quick to respond that Augustine was talking about ensoulment, not when human life begins.
On that note, Roman Catholic Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco invited Pelosi on Friday to learn what the church actually teaches and she accepted the invitation. It’s gotten surprisingly little coverage, although the Associated Press ran a brief and anemic report on the matter. The only article with teeth that I read was Julia Duin’s with the Washington Times.