WASHINGTON (BP)–Giving his thoughts on a controversial bill that pro-lifers say could set their cause back decades, President Obama said Wednesday that passage of the Freedom of Choice Act is not a high priority.
Even though the bill has yet to be introduced in this Congress, it has remained a source of concern for conservatives. Obama was one of 19 co-sponsors of the bill as a senator, and in 2007 when asked at a Planned Parenthood meeting what he would do as president to make sure abortion remains legal, he replied “the first thing I’d do as president is sign” the Freedom of Choice Act. But he made those comments when he was trying to defeat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, and he has rarely addressed it since.
If passed, the bill would guarantee that abortion remains legal even if Roe v. Wade someday is reversed. It also would overturn most if not all federal and state regulations on abortion, including waiting periods, parental notifications and bans on partial-birth abortion. It also could require taxpayer funding of abortion.
“The Freedom of Choice Act is not my highest legislative priority,” Obama said at a news conference. “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 where I’m going to focus.”
One pro-life group, Americans United for Life, has gathered more than 700,000 signatures in an online anti-Freedom of Choice petition (FightFoca.com).
A CNN reporter had asked Obama about the bill, noting that the president is set to speak at Notre Dame’s commencement — an invitation that has drawn much criticism and that led one prominent pro-life scheduled speaker, Mary Ann Glendon, to withdraw from the program.
“As a candidate, you vowed that one of the very first 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,” CNN’s Ed Henry told Obama in setting up the question. “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 responded, “I think that those who are pro-choice make a mistake 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…. 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.”
Obama further said, “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.”
But pro-lifers say that signing the Freedom of Choice Act into law — and thus overturning what they call common sense regulations — would actually increase the number of abortions. A 2004 Heritage Study by University of Alabama professor Michael New showed that overturning state restrictions, such as parental involvement laws, would increase the number of abortions by 125,000 nationwide each year.
The most recent version of the Freedom of Choice Act would have made abortion a “fundamental right.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the past has been a co-sponsor.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.