by Frank James
Sen. Barack Obama clarified his position today on mental-health exceptions to late-term abortions, saying he supports such exceptions and that comments he made during a recent magazine interview shouldn't be interpreted as opposing them.
As I wrote in an earlier posting, Obama raised eyebrows with an interview in Relevant magazine in which he said he opposed "mental distress" as a reason for aborting a fetus at or after roughly 22-weeks into a pregnancy, a so-called late-term abortion.
In saying that, it appeared that Obama was placing himself at odds with Roe v Wade and subsequent Supreme Court rulings which have upheld the constitutionality of mental-health exceptions.
But in a press availabilty on his campaign plane today on the flight from Butte, Mont. to St. Louis, Obama clarified what he meant.
Here's a transcript of the interchange as provided by the campaign.
Reporter: You said that mental distress shouldn't be a reason for late-term abortion?
Obama: "My only point is this -- historically I have been a strong believer in a women's right to choose with her doctor, her pastor and her family. And it is ..I have consistently been saying that you have to have a health exception on many significant restrictions or bans on abortions including late-term abortions.
In the past there has been some fear on the part of people who, not only people who are anti-abortion, but people who may be in the middle, that that means that if a woman just doesn't feel good then that is an exception. That's never been the case.
I don't think that is how it has been interpreted. My only point is that in an area like partial-birth abortion having a mental, having a health exception can be defined rigorously. It can be defined through physical health, It can be defined by serious clinical mental-health diseases. It is not just a matter of feeling blue. I don't think that's how pro-choice folks have interpreted it. I don't think that's how the courts have interpreted it and I think that's important to emphasize and understand."
According to Linda Douglass, the Obama campaign's senior spokesperson, the senator from Illinois was making a distinction in the magazine interview between medically diagnosed mental illness and the kind of mental distress that an unwanted pregnancy causes many a pregnant mother.
"Mental distress is not an illness." Douglass said. "He absolutely believes and has always said there has to be a health exception for serious physical and mental illness."
That makes sense and conforms to the senator's co-sponsorship of the Freedom of Choice Act legislation which, among other things, would codify a mental-health exception to late-term abortion prohibitions.
The problem for the senator was when he appeared to be making a clear demarcation between physical and mental health in his magazine interview by saying:
Now, I don't think that "mental distress" qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term...
He clearly needed to add one more thought to that statement. He did it today.