Today, the national media are lauding President Obama for seeking “common ground” on the abortion issue during his commencement speech yesterday at the University of Notre Dame. In an article entitled “Obama a Champion at Notre Dame,” Washington Post columnist Eboo Patel called the speech a “near perfect demonstration of public leadership in an environment of polarization.” If public leadership means saying what your audience wants to hear while pursuing your own hard-line agenda with gusto, then the author is right on target.
The trouble is, the President’s words of reconciliation and common ground in the national spotlight at Notre Dame don’t square with his actions on abortion policy. From his pre-election record of opposing restrictions on partial-birth abortion and endorsing the controversial Freedom of Choice Act, to his lightening-fast moves to reverse the Mexico City policy, overturn restrictions on taxpayer funding of embryo-destroying research, and remove conscience clause protections for health care providers in his first days in office, Obama’s record already establishes him as the most stridently pro-abortion president in U.S. history.
But in what some in the media are hailing as a significant compromise with pro-life supporters, Obama announced at Notre Dame that he wanted to “honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause.”
Once again the President’s words are at odds with his deeds. The President is fully aware that Congress has already drafted a sensible, bipartisan conscience clause that has been on the books for over 35 years. As described in detail, three federal laws protect doctors, nurses, medical students, hospitals, insurance companies, and other health care providers from having to take any part in abortion, sterilization, and other controversial medical procedures. Protections in the law extend to referral, counseling, and otherwise participating or assisting in abortion.
After barely a month in office, Obama moved to reverse a Bush Administration regulation that, for the first time, provides for real enforcement of federal consience protections. Closely tracking the language of the underlying statues, the regulation defines key statutory terms, informs health care providers of their rights, and assigns the HHS Office of Civil Rights the task of receiving complaints and investigating violations. According to two recent national surveys, Americans support the regulation 2 to 1, and 95% of faith-based physicians surveyed warn that they will leave medicine rather than be required to violate their conscience.
While skillfully expressing a willingness to listen to the other side in the national abortion debate, the President is using his office to pursue a one-sided, uncompromising agenda both on abortion and conscience rights. And with recent Gallup polling indicating that a majority of Americans identify themselves as pro-life, Obama’s actions on this issue are increasingly out of step with the public.