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OPINION | Opinion Pieces Address McCain's Derisive Comments on Health Exception During Wednesday's Presidential Debate

OPINION | Opinion Pieces Address McCain's Derisive Comments on Health Exception During Wednesday's Presidential Debate
[Oct. 17, 2008]

Two opinion pieces recently responded to Wednesday's presidential debate between Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.). During the debate, McCain and Obama discussed abortion rights, including bans on later abortions. Obama said that in regard to so-called "partial-birth" abortion, he is "completely supportive of a ban on late-term abortion, partial-birth or otherwise, as long as there's an exception for the mother's health and life." However, McCain seemed to "mock the notion that late-term abortions should be allowed in cases where a mother's health is threatened" (Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 10/16). Summaries of the opinion pieces appear below.

~ Sarah Kliff, Newsweek: Kliff notes in an opinion piece that McCain, in response to Obama's stated support for health exceptions, said that such exceptions have "been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything" and made air quotes in reference to the "health" of the woman when describing Obama's "extreme pro-abortion position." McCain's statements and the use of air quotes were "perplexing to many women" and "may take a bite out of his support among women," Kliff writes. According to Kliff, McCain "is correct when he suggests that the law does not specify which conditions or complications should be included in the legal definition of what constitutes a threat to the mother's health," and antiabortion groups "have long complained that the Supreme Court's definition is too vague and includes too many provisions." According to Kliff, previous Supreme Court decisions found that all factors -- including physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman's age -- can be considered when determining a patient's well-being. In addition, Kliff notes that state-level abortion bans reflect the Supreme Court's support of health exceptions. According to Kliff, last year's Gonzalez v. Carhart -- which upheld the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 -- is the only step the Supreme Court has taken in limiting abortion without providing a health exception. Kliff writes that a review of statistics on how many women in the U.S. cite a health exception when undergoing an abortion shows that "few women -- if any -- are stretching the physical and mental health clause 'to mean almost anything.'" Furthermore, Kliff writes that nationwide, the population generally supports health exceptions (Kliff, Newsweek, 10/16).

~ Boston Globe, "Political Intelligence": According to the Globe's "Political Intelligence" blog, abortion-rights supporters "are jumping all over John McCain's answers during Wednesday night's debate, when he suggested that the 'women's health' exception to abortion restrictions is sometimes abused." In addition, "They are particularly aggrieved that McCain used the air quotes motion during the discussion," the "Political Intelligence" reports. According to Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, "If McCain is going to regret anything from last night's debate, it just may be his mocking women's health to a national audience." She added, "His disregard for women's health caused a national gasp, as McCain let slip the truth about his extreme position on choice -- a reality he tends to save for speeches to his far-right base. If women in this country are still undecided, they won't be after watching last night's debate" (Boston Globe, "Political Intelligence," 10/16).