Michelle Obama, in her speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last week, explained that her husband "believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care."
If you're anything like me, you would like to believe the first lady on general principle. "Just say no to drugs"; "Read"; "Exercise": These are good messages that have come from first ladies, including this one. Life is more complicated than simple slogans, however, and in this particular narrative, she was putting a spin on the redefining of religious liberty that's occurred under her husband's administration.
The Obama administration's position is not so much "women are more than capable of making our own choices," but that the price of women's freedom is the curtailing of religious liberty, because women's freedom is dependent on the treatment of fertility as a disease, and the idea of pregnancy as something to be shunned and prevented.
Currently, Obama's Justice Department is arguing in federal courts that business owners must go along with health care that covers contraception and abortion, regardless of their religious beliefs about such delicate matters. Women's "freedom" under the Obama administration forces some Americans to make a choice between integrity and compliance. Faith-based institutions that simply can't give in will face crippling fines -- conveniently after the election.
"Freedom" in this understanding is actually nothing but a secular ideology that drives religion to the margins, more a matter of ceremony than the "indispensible support" our first president considered it. The Health and Human Services insurance mandate represents a political enshrinement of the sexual revolution by government diktat, which makes clear that despite all the talk of "choice," the "freedom" of the Obama administration is something very different from what is commonly understood.
Not everyone came off as mainstream as Mrs. Obama in spinning the policies and philosophy of her husband's administration. An opening video frankly stated the latter: "Government is the only thing we all belong to." Speakers included an army of abortion-rights activists, including the president of NARAL and representatives from Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood, as well as the pro-choice women of the House and Senate.
And in a transparent effort to win back single women voters who voted Republican in the 2010 elections that put the House in Republican control, the Dems put Sandra Fluke, a "reproductive rights" celebrity, on in prime time to scare voters. Fluke insisted that should Obama lose the election, Rep. Paul Ryan would be a "a vice president who co-sponsored a bill that would allow pregnant women to die preventable deaths in our emergency rooms."
I can imagine this might be believable to a voter who doesn't have the time to investigate the claim, which has become a persistent, albeit appalling mischaracterization of the Protect Life Act that the House voted on almost a year ago. Democrats and abortion-activist groups have been making hay with it, dubbing it the "Let Women Die Act."
Despite images that Democrats continue to paint of women dying on hospital floors, of nameless, heartless pro-life doctors and other hospital workers who would let them do so, the act sought to prevent health-care providers who are opposed to abortion on religious or moral grounds from being forced to participate in the process. A pregnant woman in an emergency room is protected too, by federal law that the legislation would not have undone; the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act requires hospital workers to do whatever is necessary to stabilize the condition of both the mother and her "unborn child" (the wording in the law) in an emergency room.
The shrillness of the Dems' claim -- along with terrible convention optics that included a floor debate over whether God could get a name-drop in the party's platform (he ultimately was included and appeared to be booed) -- betrays the extremism of the president and his party. Some questions voters should ask include: What, Mr. President, do you mean by freedom? When you talk about women's health, you mean abortion, don't you? What does that really mean for a religious believer with objections? What does religious freedom mean to you, anyway?
The Obama campaign opened up to us in Charlotte. These next weeks require a more careful look, without the stage and the props. Now is the time to cast aside the pomp and circumstance and insist on a robust accounting of ideas and their consequences. Elections are about stewardship, and our politics will only ever be as responsible as voters are about the rigor with which they make their choices.