Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, has backed away from his remarks that deciding when life begins is “above my pay grade,” conceding in a television interview that the comments were “probably” too flip.
At the Saddleback Church candidates’ forum in August, moderator and church pastor Rev. Rick Warren had asked the candidates “At what point does a baby get human rights?”
Sen. Obama had replied to Warren by saying that determining when life begins is “above my pay grade.”
Speaking to George Stephanopoulos in an interview taped for ABC’s This Week, Obama said:
“What I intended to say is that, as a Christian, I have a lot of humility about understanding when does the soul enter into … It's a pretty tough question. And so, all I meant to communicate was that I don't presume to be able to answer these kinds of theological questions.”
Explaining the answer he wished he had given to Rev. Warren’s question, Obama commented, “What I do know is that abortion is a moral issue, that it's one that families struggle with all the time. And that in wrestling with those issues, I don't think that the government criminalizing the choices that families make is the best answer for reducing abortions.”
He then endorsed ensuring that “the young mothers, or women who have a pregnancy that's unexpected or difficult, have the kind of support they need to make a whole range of choices, including adoption and keeping the child.”
Obama said this position is reflected in the Democratic Party’s platform.
Mark Stricherz, political commentator and author of the book Why the Democrats are Blue, commented on Obama’s remarks in a Monday telephone interview with CNA.
“He’s covering himself. He knows he messed up at the Saddleback Forum,” Stricherz argued, saying Obama’s remarks had hurt his appeal to religious voters, especially evangelical Christians and Catholics.
“He’s now trying to win those voters back.”
“The theological explanation is a dodge,” he added. “Embryologists are clear when life begins, at conception or fertilization. Just go to a local library and call up a biology textbook, and you can see when biologists say when life begins.”
CNA asked Stricherz why the question had shifted from a question about human rights to a question about when the soul enters the body.
“The theological question casts the issue as ambiguous, which is what Obama wants, leaving doubt in human minds about when human life begins,” he replied.
In Stricherz’s view, the majority opinion in the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade also cast the abortion issue and the issue of when life begins in “muddled, ambiguous terms.” The 1973 decision legalized abortion nationwide.