Obama: Freedom of Choice Act "Not Highest Legislative Priority"

April 30, 2009

Now that we’re over the 100-day hoopla, what did you think of President Obama’s remarks last night concerning abortion and the Freedom of Choice Act?

In a speech Obama gave to Planned Parenthood Action Fund on July 17, 2007, the then-presidential candidate said, “The first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act.” He referenced it again in 2008, on the 35th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Of course, Congress first would have to pass FOCA. And to do that, the bill would have to be introduced. As Amy Sullivan explained earlier this year, there’s little chance of that happening anytime soon — but that reality hasn’t stopped anti-choice crusaders from making its defeat one of their top legislative priorities.

The question was asked by CNN senior White House correspondent Ed Henry. My thoughts are below.

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Q: Thank you, Mr. President. In a couple of weeks, you’re going to be giving the commencement at Notre Dame. And, as you know, this has caused a lot of controversy among Catholics who are opposed to your position on abortion.

As a candidate, you vowed that one of the very things you wanted to do was sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which, as you know, would eliminate federal, state and local restrictions on abortion. And at one point in the campaign when asked about abortion and life, you said that it was above — quote, above my pay grade.

Now that you’ve been president for 100 days, obviously, your pay grade is a little higher than when you were a senator.

Do you still hope that Congress quickly sends you the Freedom of Choice Act so you can sign it?

OBAMA: You know, the — my view on — on abortion, I think, has been very consistent. I think abortion is a moral issue and an ethical issue.

I think that those who are pro-choice make a mistake when they — if they suggest — and I don’t want to create straw men here, but I think there are some who suggest that this is simply an issue about women’s freedom and that there’s no other considerations. I think, look, this is an issue that people have to wrestle with and families and individual women have to wrestle with.

The reason I’m pro-choice is because I don’t think women take that — that position casually. I think that they struggle with these decisions each and every day. And I think they are in a better position to make these decisions ultimately than members of Congress or a president of the United States, in consultation with their families, with their doctors, with their clergy.

So — so that has been my consistent position. The other thing that I said consistently during the campaign is I would like to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies that result in women feeling compelled to get an abortion, or at least considering getting an abortion, particularly if we can reduce the number of teen pregnancies, which has started to spike up again.

And so I’ve got a task force within the Domestic Policy Council in the West Wing of the White House that is working with groups both in the pro-choice camp and in the pro-life camp, to see if we can arrive at some consensus on that.

Now, the Freedom of Choice Act is not highest legislative priority. I believe that women should have the right to choose. But I think that the most important thing we can do to tamp down some of the anger surrounding this issue is to focus on those areas that we can agree on. And that’s — that’s where I’m going to focus.

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I understand why, with 1,063 pressing concerns — and with an excellent record so far on women’s reproductive health here and abroad — Obama is not prioritizing FOCA. But to say so quite clearly, when both supporters and opponents are leaning in, listening closely for signs of commitment, came as a bit of a surprise.

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