For many of us who closely watch the politics of reproductive health, it's been upsetting to see the issue become a wedge in this primary. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have 100 percent pro-choice voting records. But for months now, Clinton has been attacking Obama for seven "present" votes he cast in the Illinois State Senate on legislation that would have rolled back reproductive rights. The state's Planned Parenthood says it encouraged Obama to vote "present" -- over his own objections -- in order to preserve a pro-choice seat in the legislature. But that explanation hasn't stopped the Clinton campaign from hammering the "Obama is wobbly on choice" message home with a New Hampshire mailer, multiple press releases, and a conference call with journalists.
Obama has been using surrogates to respond, first with a New Hampshire robocall recorded by Wendy Frosh, board chair of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, and now with web videos featuring Lorna Brett Howard, the former president of Chicago NOW and a current board member of New York NARAL. Howard is also a philanthropist with a history of supporting Democratic women running for office. Up until three weeks ago, Hillary Clinton was one of them; Howard even hosted a Clinton fundraiser in her Manhattan home. But now Howard says she is supporting Obama because of her disgust with Clinton's attacks on his pro-choice record.
The Obama campaign has released three videos featuring Howard: In the first, she explains why she switched teams. In the second, she reiterates that Obama is "100 percent pro-choice" and "100 percent honest;" she's clearly implying that Clinton is not honest. In the third, Howard discusses Obama's support for the pro-choice organizations that successfully mobilized to fight the South Dakota abortion ban in 2006. "Sen. Obama was the only U.S. senator to help in this effort," Howard says. "He wrote a letter, he raised money. Every pro-choice senator was asked and Sen. Obama was the only one to step up to the plate."
Needless to say, plenty of activists who were engaged in the South Dakoka fight do support Clinton, and believe she's the most committed, long-standing reproductive rights advocate in the field. It's good to see Obama defending himself against Clinton's unfair charge that he isn't committed to choice. But a pissing match over which candidate is the most pro-choice remains unseemly, as it obscures the Democratic field's unity on this important issue.