Barack Obama hosted a town-hall meeting in Johnstown, Pa., over the weekend, and was asked how his administration would address HIV/AIDS and sexually
April 2, 2008

Barack Obama hosted a town-hall meeting in Johnstown, Pa., over the weekend, and was asked how his administration would address HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases among young girls. Obama emphasized education and prevention, including comprehensive sex ed and access to contraception.

“I’ve got two daughters; 9 years old and 6 years old,” Obama said. “I am 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.”

For reasons that elude me, some conservatives — including Sean Hannity, a correspondent for Pat Robertson’s TV show, Hugh Hewitt, and some right-wing blogs — pounced on the “punished with a baby” line, suggesting that Obama somehow equates parenthood with punishment.

Word about this is apparently making the rounds in conservative circles, because the complaints are getting louder. In his Washington Post column, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson insisted that “Obama’s record on abortion is extreme,” and cited the weekend’s comment, among other things, as evidence.

And now Obama has oddly claimed that he would not want his daughters to be “punished with a baby” because of a crisis pregnancy — hardly a welcoming attitude toward new life.

And now the religious right is seizing on what it sees as a wedge opportunity.

The conservative Washington Times reported that “pro-life activists” are outraged.

Pro-life groups have long criticized the record of Mr. Obama, Illinois Democrat, who has voted against legal protection for babies who survive botched abortions and against prohibitions on taking a minor across state lines for an abortion.

His “punished with a baby” comment Saturday at a town hall in Johnstown, Pa., reignited the outrage. [...]

Concerned Women for America (CAW) called on Mr. Obama to recant his comment, saying it stigmatizes babies conceived by teenagers and “provides an excuse for aborting them.”

If the right wants to complain about Obama being pro-choice, that makes sense. It may not be an effective electoral strategy in a country that tends to support abortion rights, but at least I understand where they’re coming from.

But this outrage over Obama’s comments from the weekend seems wildly excessive.

The campaign told reporters on Monday, “What Sen. Obama said and what he believes is clear — children are ‘miracles,’ but we have a problem when so many children are having children. As Sen. Obama said on Saturday — and on many other occasions — parents have a responsibility to teach their children about values and morals to help make sure they are not treating sex casually. And while he understands the passions on both sides of this difficult issue, Sen. Obama believes we can all agree that we should be taking steps to reduce the number of teen pregnancies and abortions in this country.”

Obama believes teenagers should be given as much accurate information as possible so they can make the right choices. If a teenage girl makes a mistake, and gets pregnant, Obama believes she should have a choice. Conservatives believe that girl can’t have comprehensive education on sexual health, can’t have access to contraception, can’t have access to the morning-after pill, and has to deliver a baby whether she wants to or not.

It’s hardly a stretch to call this “punishing” the teenage girl for her mistake. Contra Gerson, I don’t think this is an “extreme” position to take; I believe the opposite is.

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