What Obama Said About Choice And The Supreme Court

Two very different wire headlines from the same Obama comments about how abortion politics will affect his Supreme Court nominee: "Obama Seeks Pro–Women's Rights Nominee," and "Obama: No Abortion Litmus Test For High Court Pick." What did he actually say?

It's been observed that during the campaign and beyond, our president had a knack for so carefully couching his words that people would come away believing that he agreed with them. This is far more difficult to do when you're president, especially with so much more at stake.

What he said yesterday (and in the video above):

"You know, I am somebody who believes that women should have the ability to make often very difficult decisions about their own bodies and issues of reproduction. Obviously this has been a hugely contentious issue in our country for a very long time. I will say the same thing that every president has said since this issue came up, which is I don't have litmus tests around any of these issues.

"But I will say that I want somebody who is going to be interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights, and that includes women's rights. And that's going to be something that's very important to me, because I think part of what our core constitutional values promote is the notion that individuals are protected in their privacy and their bodily integrity, and women are not exempt from that."

All this also depends on your definition of a litmus test. Later that day, reporters pushed White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs to explain how that was not a litmust test. He said up,

"I think a litmus test is when you say, will you ask a direct question about—do you believe this? Do you believe that?" White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. "I think the president will ask any nominee discuss how they view the Constitution and the legal principles enshrined in it."

Rhetorically, of course, Obama wants to have it both ways — bringing up "core constitutional values" to emphasize Roe v. Wade's reading of the constitution as protecting a right to privacy and a woman's choice over her own body. "He may not like the phrase 'litmus test,' but it sure sounds as though that's what he has," commented Ramesh Ponnuru over at the National Review's Corner. True enough. And why shouldn't Obama nominate someone who shares his worldview? The rest is a dreary, semantic charade, pushed by opponents of abortion to wear down anyone's resolve to do so.

Obama Seeks Pro-Women's Rights Nominee [AP]
Obama: No Abortion Litmus Test For High Court Pick [Reuters]
Obama's Litmus Test [NRO]