BARACK OBAMA ATTEMPTS TO SHIFT THE CHOICE DEBATE.

BARACK OBAMA ATTEMPTS TO SHIFT THE CHOICE DEBATE. “When we argue big, we win,” Barack Obama told the Planned Parenthood political academy today. By “argue big,” Obama meant expanding the terms of the pro-choice debate beyond access to abortion, contraception, and comprehensive sexuality education and into a larger discussion about family planning and work-life balance for women. He called for “updating the social contract” with gender pay equity, paid maternal leave, and longer school hours that make it easier for mothers to work.

As a consequence, Obama -- surprise, surprise -- was somewhat less specific on how he’d ensure access to reproductive health care than Elizabeth Edwards was. During the question-answer session, he did say that as president he’d sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which would supersede anti-choice Supreme Court decisions such as Gonzales v. Carhart and allow for federally-funded abortions. But Obama was clearly more interested in talking about how reproductive rights could fit into a family values agenda. “There’s a moral component to prevention and we shouldn’t be shy about encouraging it,” he said. “As parents, we need to teach young people to show reverence about sexuality... not only to young girls, but also to those young boys.” That sounds like effective rhetoric to me, but it’s not as strong a policy agenda as what Edwards laid out earlier.

Obama did have some truly stirring moments and elegantly wove gender, race, and class issues together. About 750,000 teens get pregnant every year, he pointed out, and half of all Latina and black girls become mothers before reaching their twenties. “If we reduce teen pregnancy, we can also reduce poverty,” he said. Obama also recalled that Martin Luther King, Jr. considered Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger a model of direct action for her work in distributing contraceptives when to do so was against the law.

--Dana Goldstein

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