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TIME Writer Objects to Recognizing Life at Conception

During the Civic Forum at Saddleback Church last week, Rev. Rick Warren asked both presumptive presidential nominees, John McCain and Barack Obama, when a baby should receive human rights. 


McCain stated, “at the moment of conception.” Obama replied, “Whether you're looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade,” before talking about his desire to reduce the number of abortions.


Preferring Obama's “artful dodge” to McCain's clarity, Gibbs jumped on McCain's answer in her article “McCain and Obama on Abortion.”  She stated:


His construction of human rights beginning “at the moment of conception,” while theoretically clean, is a practical mess.  It throws the entire weight of argument onto one side of the scale; a woman, whose womb and RNA are essential to the development of a fertilized egg, would be obliged to do nothing that could even inadvertently interfere with the progression from zygote to newborn.  This would have, among other effects, such immense impact on access to contraception that it would all but guarantee an increase in unwanted pregnancies – and the abortions that McCain opposes.  I suppose this counts as definitive leadership; I just wonder if McCain's definition takes him in the direction he really wants to go.


Gibbs trotted out the questions of what happens to stem-cell research, in-vitro fertilization when there are extra embryos, and contraceptives like IUDs and the morning-after pill that work to block implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus.


In contrast, Gibbs saluted Obama for his “long, careful, nuanced plowing of middle ground,” in which he mentioned his desire “to reduce the need for abortion.” Gibbs noted that Obama's response “is reflected in a Democratic party platform that unequivocally defends the right to legal abortion but also calls for better access to contraception and comprehensive sex education.”  There is nothing middle ground about this.


Gibbs did not acknowledge that “better access to contraception and comprehensive sex education” is not a 100 percent effective guard against unintended pregnancies.  Contraceptives fail, even when used perfectly, and simply providing knowledge about sex does not guarantee wise moral choices.    


Gibbs didn't mention that “comprehensive sex education” is an ill-defined term that has many different meanings to many different people.  Nor did she mention the debate about when children should be taught about sex.  She never mentioned the firestorm that erupted last summer when Obama hinted that some forms of sexual education are appropriate for 5-year-olds.


Gibbs stated “The clear answer beats the clever one any time…unless you worry about the chaos that clarity can bring.”  Her article indicates that she doesn't worry about the chaos that trying to please everybody can bring. 


Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.