Pelosi: I’m Not for Abortion on Demand

Pelosi said she calls the committee investigating Planned Parenthood "the Select Committee to Hurt Women’s Health." (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sees the recent Republican attempt to defund Planned Parenthood as an “insult to the intelligence and judgment of women.”  

Asked if she had watched any of the undercover sting videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing harvesting fetal body parts for use in medical research — the tapes that reinvigorated the recent push to withhold federal funds from the country’s largest abortion provider — she said she’d only seen what had been shown on the news. “They ’re doctored,’’ she said. No congressional committee has found Planned Parenthood guilty of any wrongdoing, and yet “the Republicans have now put forward a select committee. … I call it ‘the Select Committee to Hurt Women’s Health.’ It’s just a terrible thing.”  

“What’s interesting to me,’’ she continued, “is that for decades in Congress I have been trying to tell people that the Republicans do not support contraception and family planning.”  

Opposition to Planned Parenthood is “not about terminating a pregnancy as much as it is — well, it is about that — but it’s also largely about contraception. Nobody ever believed me; now they see firsthand that they want to stop Planned Parenthood from providing these services.”  

Told that the report Planned Parenthood itself had commissioned had not actually found that the tapes had been doctored — on the contrary, it said it found “no substantive video manipulation” and “no evidence of audio manipulation” — she said, “I did not sit down and watch their doctored versions of what may have happened, and I still say they’re doctored.”  

The bill Republicans really want to pass would outlaw abortion after 20 weeks, as is the case in most of the rest of the world. Asked how she’d explain what is wrong with that bill to people who are “in the middle” on abortion — who feel abortion should be legal in some but not all circumstances — she said, “Well, that’s Roe v. Wade.”  

Only, abortion is legal right up until delivery in the U.S.  

“No, it is not,’’ she insisted.  

But it is possible to get one …  

“Well, if somebody is sick it is — if it’s the life or health of the mother.”  

Later this month, it will be 43 years since the Supreme Court handed down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which does not ban the procedure in the third trimester, but does say states may ban it after 24 weeks — the outer edge of viability at the time — to protect fetal life.  

The Doe v. Bolton decision handed down at the same time, though, says that even when the state may restrict the procedure — only allowing it as necessary to protect the life or health of the mother — “health,” must be interpreted so broadly that it includes not only physical or psychological well-being but the woman’s family situation.  

Asked about the 20-week ban, Pelosi answered, “Let me say this; I’m a Catholic, a devout, practicing Catholic. I take great comfort in my faith, come from a very Catholic family, largely pro-life. I’ve had five children and the day my fifth child was born, my oldest turned 6, so I’m with the program in terms of the Catholic Church. However, if there’s one issue that really — I try to be dispassionate about how we find solutions — if there’s one issue that really is almost inflaming to women, is when politicians say we will influence the size and timing of your family; we will decide what is right for you. …  

"Most of those cases that we hear beyond 20 weeks are painful for the families — painful for the families — but that’s not up to politicians in Washington, D.C., to decide; that’s between women and their doctors.”  

So, lawmakers should never set any limits on abortion?  

“No,’’ she said, “I don’t believe in abortion on demand, I don’t believe in abortion on demand. I’m talking about the health of the mother and the child and this is not a decision that a politician should be making. This is about a woman’s judgment. This is about respect — respect — for women. I sometimes wonder if the Republican men who are here even know what’s going on in their own families, because the fact is that contraception and birth control is something that is used — I don’t believe that abortion is a form of birth control or contraception — and if you want to diminish the number of abortions in our country, you should love contraception, but they don’t."  

Raising her finger in admonition, she said, “It’s really important not to change the subject back to abortion; they don’t believe in contraception and family planning. They don’t believe in it.”  

Does she fear the slippery slope, that abortion rights would be eroded into nothingness if any limits were imposed?  

“No,’’ she said, “I don’t subscribe to that argument. ... I don’t even like to use the word” abortion. “That’s my generation; I don’t like to use the word … but this is something so personal. This office that I serve in was the office of Tip O’Neill when he was speaker, this particular office, and he said all politics is local and I’ll go further and say all politics is personal when it comes to some of these issues. It’s a very personal matter, and important not to mischaracterize what this is about.”  

Update: On Wednesday, NARAL Pro-Choice America issued a statement criticizing Pelosi’s remarks in the Roll Call interview:  

“At a time when our rights are under daily attack in the halls of Congress, on the campaign trail, in statehouses and in the courts, now more than ever, we need our champions to speak with a clear and strong voice in support of our legal right to abortion,’’ said the statement from NARAL senior vice president Sasha Bruce. “Unfortunately, Leader Pelosi’s recent comments fall well short of this standard.  

“The Leader should stop using twisted GOP talking points about abortion and birth control. We don't know women who demand abortion or use abortion as birth control. We do know women who make thoughtful decisions about how and if they want to start a family, and who need access to all reproductive-health care services, including abortion. We’re confident the Leader does too, which makes her comments all the more troubling.  

“Time and time again, Leader Pelosi has stood up for women and our reproductive rights. But at a moment when so much is at stake, her comments are particularly disappointing and ill-advised."  

Also on Wednesday, Pelosi spokeswoman Evangeline George issued a statement of clarification: “Roe v. Wade affirmed a woman's right to make her own reproductive health care decisions.  Leader Pelosi was referring to the fact that abortions later in pregnancy are not guaranteed under Roe v. Wade, with limited exceptions such as protecting the mother's life or health.  In an attempt to chip away at a woman's right to choose, House Republicans voted to impose a nationwide ban on abortions after 20 weeks with no meaningful exception to protect the health of the mother.”  

Contact Henneberger at melindahenneberger@rollcall.com and follow her on Twitter at @melindadc. Related:

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