SOCIAL ISSUES: OBAMA
SPECIFIC POLICY POSITIONS
Obama supports Roe v. Wade because it affirms the principle “that government should not intrude on private family matters.” He says that it is appropriate to place limits on late-term abortions if those restrictions include an exception for the woman’s health. NARAL Pro-Choice America gave Obama a 100 percent score on his Senate voting record in 2005, 2006, and 2007.
The president’s health care law requires employers and insurers to fully cover contraception. In the face of protests, the administration carved out an exemption for religiously affiliated hospitals and universities that places the cost of birth-control coverage on the insurer rather than the employer.
Obama believes that the courts should be “the refuge of the powerless.” As senator, he voted against President George W. Bush’s picks of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, saying that their records did not show them to be supportive of the powerless over the powerful.
The president says that policymakers should not “leave their religion at the door,” but he has drawn a firm line on church/state separation. In 2010, he signed an executive order clarifying the ground rules for government and religious partnerships, which said that “explicitly religious” activities must be privately funded and separate in time or location from government-funded programs.
Obama started his tenure by ordering federal agencies to extend benefits to same-sex partners of employees. He is ending his first term by unequivocally supporting gay marriage. He pushed Congress to repeal the ban on openly gay members serving in the military. He has called the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and refused to defend the law in court.
Attorney General Eric Holder sought a reinstatement of the federal assault-weapons ban in 2009, but there has been no movement on that front since then.
In 1997, Obama voted “present” on a bill in the Illinois Senate to prevent late-term abortions, because it did not include an exception for the woman’s health. He has nominated Supreme Court justices supportive of abortion rights.
In 2011, the Health and Human Services Department announced that all health insurance plans would cover women’s preventive care, including contraception, without co-payments or deductibles.
Obama successfully lobbied Congress in 2010 to pass legislation banning the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for serving in the military.
The president named two female justices to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor to succeed David Souter, and Elena Kagan to succeed John Paul Stevens.
Michelle Obama: It would be difficult for any feminist first lady not to have an influence on her husband, and Michelle Obama is no shrinking violet. She has promoted work/family life balance for women.
Valerie Jarrett: As a senior adviser to Obama and a longtime confidant, Jarrett has easy access to the president. She urged him to hold firm on contraception coverage by religious institutions.
Kathleen Sebelius: The Health and Human Services secretary was the foundation beneath Obama’s push for the health care law and the architect of the exemption on contraception coverage for religious institutions. A popular former governor of Kansas, Sebelius staunchly supports abortion rights.
Nancy Ann DeParle: The White House’s deputy chief of staff is an expert in health care policy, having served in the Clinton administration as the Medicare and Medicaid administrator. DeParle has defended the administration’s decision to continue current law that prohibits federal funding of abortions.
SOCIAL ISSUES: ROMNEY
SPECIFIC POLICY POSITIONS
Romney insists that he will conduct “a pro-life presidency” despite his previous actions and statements indicating some tolerance for abortion rights. He has said he wants to overturn Roe v. Wade and stop federal funds from going toward abortions in and outside the United States.
The former Massachusetts governor said that Obama’s attempt to require religiously affiliated institutions to offer insurance coverage for contraception was an “attack on religious conscience.” He also denounced Obama’s compromise in which insurance companies would be required to offer the coverage to women employed at those institutions.
Romney has promised to nominate conservative judges to the Supreme Court in the mold of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito.
Romney says he does not want the United States to become a “secular nation.” He has stood up for the “ministerial exemption” that prevents the government from interfering in hiring and firing decisions regarding ministers. Romney has also defended the Catholic Church’s right to refuse to fund contraception or abortion in insurance plans, and he has supported the church’s ability to give adoption preference to families with a woman as mother and a man as father. He believes that religious ornamentation should be allowed in public spaces.
Romney opposes gay marriage and civil unions. He has promised to appoint an attorney general who will defend the Defense of Marriage Act and champion a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. He has waffled on gay adoption, suggesting at one point that it was “fine” and then backtracking to say only that it is legal for gay couples to adopt.
The former Massachusetts governor appears happy with the status quo on gun owners’ rights, although he favors banning assault weapons.
In 2005, the then-governor vetoed a bill to make “Plan B” emergency contraception available over the counter, saying that the drug would “terminate life after conception.” The Massachusetts Legislature overrode his veto.
Romney filed “religious liberty” legislation in Massachusetts in 2006 that would have exempted religious institutions from a state law requiring gay couples to be given equal consideration in adoptions.
As governor in 2004, Romney signed into law an assault-weapons ban ensuring that AK-47s, UZIs, and Mac-10 rifles were permanently prohibited in the state, regardless of federal laws.
Peter Flaherty: A former prosecutor from Boston, Flaherty has been tasked with winning over social and religious conservatives. In 2008, he helped Romney frame his evolving thoughts on abortion rights.
Ed Gillespie: A former adviser to President George W. Bush, Gillespie joined Romney’s campaign in April. He was known for courting evangelicals on same-sex marriage during the Bush administration.
Mary Ann Glendon: She is an antiabortion law professor at Harvard University who is credited with helping Romney work through his philosophy on abortion. In February, Glendon offered a fierce critique of people who think that Romney is weak on religious freedom, calling such ideas “preposterous.”
Michael Biundo: The Romney camp hired the former campaign aide to Rick Santorum in April. Biundo is focused on winning over Santorum’s supporters, many of whom are social conservatives.
This article appears in the August 25, 2012, edition of National Journal Magazine.