1. Religion & Spirituality
Scott P. Richert

What Will Barack Obama Do as President?

By January 19, 2009

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A sense of anticipation is in the air, as the United States prepares for the inauguration of her 44th President, Barack Obama. In my lifetime, only the first inauguration of Ronald Reagan, in January 1981, approached the expectations attached to the Obama presidency. There are certain similarities in the popularity and charisma of both men, as well as in the economic conditions and the widespread desire for a change in the political landscape, but people seem to expect even more from Obama than they did from Reagan.

It will be hard for President Obama to live up to those expectations, and on one vital issue, I don't think he will really try to do so. For Catholics, the fear is that an Obama administration will make the first significant change to the status quo on abortion in years. During his campaign, Barack Obama pledged to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which would undo every significant restriction placed on abortion by states in the years since Roe v. Wade. It would also make abortion a fundamental right, which could lead to lawsuits against doctors and hospitals--which in practice means primarily Catholic ones--that refuse to perform abortions.

Such concerns have motivated the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to organize a postcard campaign, urging members of Congress to vote against FOCA. There is a sense that the early days of the Obama administration will shape the direction of the country--and of Catholic participation in American political life--for the foreseeable future.

Yet I do not think that Barack Obama will sign FOCA--not because he will go back on his promise to supporters of abortion, but because he will not get the opportunity to do so. I'm speaking now from my background in political science and as editor of a political magazine. As far as I can tell, there aren't enough votes in Congress at the moment to pass FOCA, and, despite his pledge to sign it, I don't think Obama will squander his political capital early on by twisting arms on Capitol Hill on the most divisive issue in American politics.

That is not to say that Barack Obama is not committed to abortion. Indeed, his stands mark him as the most pro-abortion politician ever elected president. Despite the widespread perception that he is a warm and friendly man, his remarks about his own daughters and abortion--"if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby"--seem almost as cold as Michael Dukakis's answer in 1988 to the question about whether he would favor the death penalty if a man raped and killed his wife ("No, I don't, and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life").

But Obama is also a very cautious politician. Both as a state senator in Illinois and as U.S. senator, he has often avoided votes on controversial issues, even when his public stands made it clear which side he favored. I think the same will happen now. FOCA may well come up for a vote in the House and/or Senate, but the Obama administration will offer little more than lip service, and President Obama himself may not even make a public statement in support of FOCA during the debate.

Obama will take other actions that will expand the federal government's--and federal taxpayers'--complicity in abortion. For example, he will certainly overturn by executive order the "Mexico City Policy," which has banned the use of U.S. foreign-aid funds to promote or procure abortions, and he may very well choose to do so on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade later this week. And, of course, those men and women he appoints to federal judgeships and to the U.S. Supreme Court will undoubtedly not only support Roe v. Wade but the most expansive interpretation of it.

On the general question of abortion, however, I don't expect much to change. Just as the Republican administration of George W. Bush chose not to press the issue (by, for instance, urging Congress to remove laws restricting abortion from review by the federal courts), the Democratic administration of Barack Obama will largely maintain the status quo.

The difference, of course, is that those who support abortion have no reason to be dissatisfied with the status quo, while those who of us oppose it should have been upset when the Bush administration did not press the issue. Our failure to hold President Bush and his party accountable for not upholding the Republican platform on abortion meant that abortion would continue apace, ending the lives of 1.3 million children per year.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
January 20, 2009 at 9:16 am
(1) Michael D says:

Scott – what do you mean…..”almost as cold as Michael Dukakis’s answer in 1988 to the question about whether he would favor the death penalty if a man raped and killed his wife (“No, I don’t, and I think you know that I’ve opposed the death penalty during all of my life”).
If he did not favor the death penalty under these circumstances as he has opposed it all his life, why is that “cold”? Or am I missing something. Surely the right to life, is any life?

January 20, 2009 at 2:21 pm
(2) karin says:

it is scary to even think about.

January 20, 2009 at 2:39 pm
(3) Bill Conlon says:

Even so, be afraid. Be very afraid of “Obomanation”…….

January 20, 2009 at 5:18 pm
(4) ytb says:

I think President Bush did all he could given his circumstances. He sat 2 excellent Supreme Court justices and did his best with the stem cell issue. You have to know when to pick your battles. With the Congress he had, taking that on too agressively could actually hurt the pro-life cause if the opposition is overwhelming.

January 20, 2009 at 5:28 pm
(5) Scott P. Richert says:

“With the Congress he had . . . “

For the first six years of the Bush administration, the Republican Party controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. By a majority vote, Congress could have removed the power to decide cases involving abortion from the Supreme Court. (See Article III, Section 10, of the U.S. Constitution.)

Republican congressmen introduced such legislation into the House of Representatives; the Bush administration refused to support it. The administration did, however, propose similar legislation to remove cases concerning the Pledge of Allegiance and detentions at Guantanamo Bay from review by the federal courts.

January 20, 2009 at 6:21 pm
(6) Patrick says:

Too many politicians, some that are even catholics base their lives soley on their position. While this may be the reason for becoming a poltician in the first place, they shouldn’t proclaim their faith as a catholic, if they support situations that clearly are against the catholic teachings. What is the point of saying you are a catholic, but do not believe in the catholic teachings? Find a a faith that is more in line with your beliefs. I realize not all catholics follow all the teachings of the faith, but there are the core teachings that must be followed, if you are to proclaim yourself as a true, practicing catholic. They seem to act untouchable and unafraid, due to their positions in this life, but I feel sorry for them when they pass and stand to be judged.

January 20, 2009 at 8:54 pm
(7) ytb says:

You’re right Scott, the House was a place he had the support, and maybe former Pres. Bush should have been more proactive. I feel that he never had a Senate that was willing to cooperate or even compromise on anything. There was a venomous attitude like I’ve never seen toward him that was set on fillibustering everything he tried. Let’s hope and pray somehow there is a change in the national conscience toward abortion and then maybe we can change the attitudes of our elected officials. I believe that sadly the pro-life people are the minority in this country and loosing ground.

January 20, 2009 at 9:55 pm
(8) Scott P. Richert says:

Any change in the national conscience on abortion will come about only because of changes in individual consciences. I think Catholics and other pro-lifers need to view the Obama administration as an opportunity. We know that any national battles over abortion over the next four years will be, at best, rear-guard actions, simply trying to stop the expansion of abortion.

That means that our primary focus will need to be on the states and localities. But we should also consider that perhaps that’s where our focus should have been all along. After all, while we talk about the number of children who are killed every year in this nation by abortion, what we’re really talking about is the number of children killed in my town and your town and hundreds of other towns across the country.

I’ll have more to say about this on Thursday, for the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

January 20, 2009 at 10:00 pm
(9) Scott P. Richert says:

Michael D., what you’re missing was the completely lack of human response in Dukakis’s answer. Those of us who watched the debate were stunned. This wasn’t simply a question of saying, “I’ve always opposed the death penalty and always will”; in fact, the question was essentially a softball tossed at Dukakis, to give him the opportunity to say, “I understand the horror and pain suffered by those whose loved ones have been the victim of violent crime, and government needs to do more to protect its citizens from such monstrous acts. But I don’t believe that the death penalty is the appropriate response.”

Dukakis’s own handlers believed that his lack of human reaction to that question helped lose him the election.

January 21, 2009 at 1:18 am
(10) Al hamdullah says:

President Obama really united 80% of the americans black ad white, small and big eyes, he can use that to his political strategy, though he has some unpopular decisions as a senator, this time he should be keen enough to think what should be good for the people, i believed some of his unpopular stands as a senator will be changed just like we have seen him changed several of his flat forms during the course of the campaign period…

in a wild imagination if obama has to finished his term of office alive and kicking….do as what the Masters want, sooner or later he will be doing decisions that 80% of the American people would not be happy, its because priorities will change… Democratic Presidents are prone to not finished there terms…due to several reasons…. i hope and pray he will leave to people’s expectations…

January 22, 2009 at 12:59 pm
(11) peter mcveigh says:


You repear the same old tired lie that underscores the arguments of the “Pro-lifers.”

Obama is not pro-abortion. He is pro-choice.

There is a big difference and it is an inconvenient truth that you refuse to accept.

January 22, 2009 at 1:04 pm
(12) Scott P. Richert says:

Peter, the “choice” in question here is the decision to end a human life through abortion. You can try to disguise that reality any way you wish, but that’s the “inconvenient truth.”

Obama himself admits that. Look at his remark about his own daughters: “if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.” And then remember that the baby–his word–that he regards as a punishment would be his own grandchild.

Some “choice.”

January 23, 2009 at 1:34 am
(13) sammy says:


Please tell me why you took Obama’s statement out of context? Obama was not talking about abortion when he made this comment:

“I’ve got two daughters — 9 years old and 6 years old. I’m going to teach them first of all about values and morals, but if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby. I don’t want them punished with an STD at the age of 16.

You know, so, it doesn’t make sense to not give them information. You still want to teach them the morals and the values to make good decisions. That will be important, number one. Then we’re still going to have to provide better treatment for those who do have — who do contract HIV/AIDS, because it’s no longer a death sentence, if, in fact, you get the proper cocktails. It’s expensive. That’s why we want to prevent as much as possible.”

Why would you leave so much out like you did and say he was discussing abortion and that he was talking about his children and abortion.

“Despite the widespread perception that he is a warm and friendly man, his remarks about his own daughters and abortion–”if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby”"

January 23, 2009 at 5:14 am
(14) Erinn says:

Scott -
Right to life is only one issue. The Catholic Church is very concerned with all social issues and how we care for each other. Certainly you know the importance of social consciousness in our religion.President Obama is concerned with issues of poverty, health care, education, and all of the many social problems in our country. No leader is perfect, nor will we all agree on all issues, but by focusing on only one thing that we disagree with we obscure other issues equally important to the well being of the citizens of this country.In the past 8 years the quality of life for the poorest of our people has deteriorated.In the wealthiest country in the world, we don’t have healthcare for all. In all of our cities we have large (and growing) homeless populations, children whose parents can’t aford to feed them adequately,people who can’t afford to heat their living places—– the list is endless.Perhaps you should open your eyes to the fact that the choice we made was for the candidate who showed a concern for a large range of social problems we are all concerned about.

January 23, 2009 at 10:43 am
(15) Caroline says:

The problem with the casual attitude of ‘pro-choice’ people is that they have probably never seen graphic images of what an aborted foetus looks like – its not a blob of blood but a tiny thing complete with a head, torso, and limbs. When the poison is administered to kill the foetus, the head is cut off, the limbs are chopped off. I have never seen a more pitiful sight than that of a poor defenceless baby all chopped up mercilessly just because women go round happily giving in to their sick pleasures with as many men as they want without the sanctity of marriage. No wonder Jesus weeps and promises another holocaust as long as mankind is desensitised to this mass brutal murder of innocents.

January 23, 2009 at 11:59 am
(16) Jeff says:

President Bush was Pro Choice,He got a Women Pregnant at Yale and Daddy and Mommy Bush along with Baby Bush,made her get an abotion.He sent people to war to die,as Govenor of Texas he made it hard for the Childrens Health Care Plan to work well,He Is Racist and Hate Children.No one in the Church spoke out agianist President Obama on this Issue until 4 days before the Election,very
strange.At least to me as a Senator,He did not
vote to pass a pro life bill twice,only cause that pro life law was already law within 4 other laws.being Pro life is much more than being agianist abortion only,you peole are 1 issue voters only.Yet Sarah Palin,
is for Sex Ed. in schools,but the Church did not correct Her.I tell people I am Pro Choice
but against Abortion,People have to be able to make a choice{the pro choice}part,But we need to tell and teach them the Right Choice
{the pro life}part!!!only 1 choice is no choice,we need the Pro Life Right God Approved
Blessed Vigin Mary Approved Choice.Being Pro Life,Is also for Social Justice in all Life Issues.

January 30, 2009 at 2:20 am
(17) sammy says:

I am very disturbed that Scott did not reply to my question. He did take Obama’s statements out of context. Mr Obama’s was NOT speaking of abortion for anyone including his own daughters in the quote that Scott claims. I would like to know why he felt the need to to do this. If Obama is really all about killing babies then why would anyone, Catholic, Republican, and or fanatical right have to take anything out of context to try and get their point (of Obama) across.

If not Scott can anyone else give me a REAL reason why (now) President Obama’s words would have to be taken out of context?

January 30, 2009 at 10:06 am
(18) Scott P. Richert says:

sammy, I apologize for not responding earlier. My day job is 50-60 hours per week, and on weeks when we send an issue of our magazine to press (as we did this week), it goes above 70. During such weeks, I have only a limited amount of time to spend on the guidesite, and I use it to create new content.

If you or any other reader posts a comment and feels that a reasonable amount of time (say, 48 hours) has passed without a response from me, feel free to send me an e-mail to prompt me. In addition to my work schedule, sometimes notices of comments get lost in the ether or caught in my spam filter.

January 30, 2009 at 10:40 am
(19) Scott P. Richert says:

Now, sammy, on to your comment. Look at Obama’s campaign website and now WhiteHouse.gov. On both, he tied contraception and abortion together, under the term “reproductive rights.” He did so throughout the campaign, throughout his Illinois Senate campaign, and throughout his entire public career.

In other words, despite your best attempts to separate the issues, Obama does now and always has seen contraception and abortion as a continuum. And he’s right, as Pope Paul VI knew and expressed forcefully in Humanae vitae, and as John Paul II spent 25 years discussing in various documents and speeches.

That becomes clear when you think about the implications of Obama’s statement: “if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.” What’s the mistake? Premarital sex, with or without contraception? Marital sex, but without contraception at a time when they aren’t planning to have a baby? Marital sex, with contraception that fails?

Obama’s statement is a general one: “if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.” He doesn’t say, “If they make one kind of mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby, but if they make a different kind of mistake, then I do want them punished with a baby.” Of course not. The reason I said that this remark is “cold” is because he very calmly stated that a baby is a punishment.

So, when they make a mistake, and the contraception fails, does that change everything? Do you imagine, sammy, that his response will now be, “Yes, now they should be punished with a baby!”

If so, you haven’t paid attention to Barack Obama’s public statements, his legislative career, or his unbroken record of kowtowing to Planned Parenthood, up to the point of voting against an Illinois law that would have protected the life of a child born alive during a failed abortion.

October 28, 2012 at 4:40 pm
(20) Caleb s says:

Obama should not be presedent

October 28, 2012 at 4:41 pm
(21) Caleb s says:

Obama should not be president 4 another term

January 22, 2013 at 6:31 pm
(22) mms says:

karin says: it is scary to even think about.

We don’t have to be paralyzed by fear, you know!

Just join the growing opposition to abortion (institutionalized murder).
To have an effective voice … join up with movements against abortion like http://www.medjugorje.com.
Everyone should be very very concerned at the repetition of similar errors of history.
Remember what happened under Nazism, Communism, Fascism, Pol Pot, Mao, etc. etc. etc. – beginning with the disabled?
It was then a miniscule small step to institutionalised murder by the state to any other “inconvenient” humans; then to “enemies of the state”.

In the end, atheist totalitarian dictatorships were responsible for:
110 MILLION murders under Stalin and Mao;
6 MILLION murders of Jews under Hitler:
7.5 MILLION murders of Christians under Hitler (Remember, if Hitler was so fond of Christians — as atheists will insist, despite to evidence to the contrary in Mein Kampf and private hand-written notes by his henchman, Martin Borman — why then did he murder 7.5 MILLION Christians?
Then remember that Hitler was a devoted disciple of atheist Friedrich Nietzche).

Then remember how the abortion debate was hijacked by people who were so far removed from Christian teaching that they behaved (and still do) much like the opinion-shapers [at whose] “desks and lecture-halls … were ultimately prepared the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Maidanek” (Victor Frankl, Jewish psychologist, who survived the Nazi death camps).

Then remember the warning of Dostoevsky that when God is banished, all manner of evil is possible and eventually inevitable.

All is not lost. Just stand up for what is moral and ethical so that you will have no regrets about your own heroism.
Otherwise even more “evil [will] proliferate when good men do nothing”.

January 22, 2013 at 8:32 pm
(23) mms says:

Moral bankruptcy has torn apart and destroyed every culture throughout history faster than any other problem. You need look no further than Rome and Greece of 2000 years ago.
Today, crimes like abortion is an unambiguous outcome of amorality / moral bankruptcy.

Moral bankruptcy is on the rise and rise throughout the world. People have capitulated to atheist thinking (without so much as a pause for thought about cool-headed logic, or the consequences of their actions, and no thought at all about learning about past mistakes of history).
Humans have banished God from their lives.
The consequences of the arrogance of Adam and Eve are about to be repeated.

So, in the process of self-destruction – which is becoming inevitable -
is the financial cost of abortions about to bankrupt the nation … even more dramatically than the Global Financial Crisis?

Remember, those that fail to stand up to evil, are complicit in it.

Then ask yourself about what is likely to happen in our “collective punishment” of self-destruction which we (collectively) are bringing upon our culture.

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