To my mind, relatively little of interest occurred during yesterday's third and final debate. It was the most interesting of the three, thanks to being the best moderated, by Bob Schieffer of CBS News.
But one exchange proved to me once and for all that protecting women's autonomy when it comes to their reproductive rights is not a critical issue with regard to whether we elect Barack Obama or John Mcain (emphases added) (source):
Could either of you ever nominate someone to the Supreme Court who disagrees with you on this issue? Senator McCain?
MCCAIN: I would never and have never in all the years I've been there imposed a litmus test on any nominee to the court. That's not appropriate to do.
SCHIEFFER: But you don't want Roe v. Wade to be overturned?
MCCAIN: I thought it was a bad decision. I think there were a lot of decisions that were bad. I think that decisions should rest in the hands of the states. I'm a federalist. And I believe strongly that we should have nominees to the United States Supreme Court based on their qualifications rather than any litmus test. ...
I voted for Justice Breyer and Justice Ginsburg. Not because I agreed with their ideology, but because I thought they were qualified and that elections have consequences when presidents are nominated. This is a very important issue we're talking about.
Senator Obama voted against Justice Breyer and Justice Roberts on the grounds that they didn't meet his ideological standards. That's not the way we should judge these nominees. Elections have consequences. They should be judged on their qualifications. And so that's what I will do.
I will find the best people in the world -- in the United States of America who have a history of strict adherence to the Constitution. And not legislating from the bench.
SCHIEFFER: But even if it was someone -- even someone who had a history of being for abortion rights, you would consider them?
MCCAIN: I would consider anyone in their qualifications. I do not believe that someone who has supported Roe v. Wade that would be part of those qualifications. But I certainly would not impose any litmus test.
SCHIEFFER: All right.
OBAMA: Well, I think it's true that we shouldn't apply a strict litmus test and the most important thing in any judge is their capacity to provide fairness and justice to the American people.
And it is true that this is going to be, I think, one of the most consequential decisions of the next president. It is very likely that one of us will be making at least one and probably more than one appointments and Roe versus Wade probably hangs in the balance.
Now I would not provide a litmus test. But I am somebody who believes that Roe versus Wade was rightly decided. I think that abortion is a very difficult issue and it is a moral issue and one that I think good people on both sides can disagree on.
But what ultimately I believe is that women in consultation with their families, their doctors, their religious advisers, are in the best position to make this decision. And I think that the Constitution has a right to privacy in it that shouldn't be subject to state referendum, any more than our First Amendment rights are subject to state referendum, any more than many of the other rights that we have should be subject to popular vote.
OBAMA: So this is going to be an important issue. I will look for those judges who have an outstanding judicial record, who have the intellect, and who hopefully have a sense of what real-world folks are going through.
What's wrong with this picture? If it is so essential to elect Senator Obama for the sake of Roe v. Wade, then Senator Obama should have a litmus test on this issue. Senator McCain makes a good point when he says he voted for Ruth Bader Ginsberg as proof that he does not have a litmus test on the Roe question. But as a Republican whose party is not committed to the upholding of Roe v. Wade, whether or not Senator McCain would make upholding Roe a litmus test does not particularly matter. What does matter is that Senator Obama, whose party is committed to upholding Roe, refused to commit to treating that as a make or break issue when it would come to his judicial appointments.
And another thing: why does Senator Obama think that women need to consult with doctors, families, and religious advisers when deciding what to do with their own bodies? I have no objection to anybody consulting with anybody about any decision, but Senator Obama's committee of consultants approach suggests that once again he misses the point when it comes to women's empowerment. Would Senator Obama imply that men who decide to have vasectomies should make that decision in consultation with their families, their doctors and their religious advisers? I doubt it. I am sure that many men who debate having a vasectomy do in fact consult various people. But the double standard that is in play here is one that says when women decide what to do with their bodies it is of course a community decision, with a particular role for religious advisers but when men decide what to do with their bodies and their reproductive choices there is no presumption of community involvement. Similarly, would Senator Obama suggest that before consenting adults choose to use birth control (the subject of an important Supreme Court precedent leading up to Roe v. Wade) they ought to be consulting their families, doctors, and religious advisers?
Senator Obama may claim to believe in a right of privacy, but his understanding of privacy, at least when it comes to a woman's approach to deciding how to allow her body to be used and treated is stunted. A full-blown right to privacy is rooted in autonomy, agency over one's choices. The right to decide how to use your body or to permit others to use it could not be more essential to individual autonomy.
Meanwhile, Senator Obama who thinks Roe v. Wade - which at this point is something of a red herring when it comes to the de facto ability of women to obtain safe and legal abortions in the U.S. - "hangs in the balance" has now publicly announced that he would not insist that his appointees commit to upholding Roe v. Wade.
So now, can we at least agree that whatever the de facto impact of Roe is at this point, Senator Obama and his surrogates simply cannot claim with a straight face that an Obama presidency is essential to the future of Roe?