ELECTION 08: Obama tells group he'll 'never back down' in his support of legal abortion

by Michael Foust, posted Friday, July 11, 2008 (11 years ago)

NEW YORK (BP)--With his support of abortion rights under attack by John McCain and pro-life groups, Democrat Barack Obama responded aggressively July 10, calling it an issue from which he will "never back down."

Obama appeared in New York alongside his former rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, at a fundraiser sponsored by a group dubbed "Women for Obama." The presumptive Democratic nominee, Obama called abortion rights a "critical issue in this election." His speech came one day after he was endorsed by Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider.

"Sen. McCain has made it abundantly clear that he wants to appoint justices like [Supreme Court Justices John] Roberts and [Samuel] Alito and that he hopes to see Roe overturned," Obama said, referencing President Bush's two nominees.

"I was proud to get Planned Parenthood's endorsement [July 9], but I have to say that when you look who's got a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood, and you've got another candidate [McCain] with a zero percent rating from Planned Parenthood, then it's not really a nail-biter [in deciding whom to support]," he said to laughter.

"I stand by my votes against confirming Justices Roberts and Alito. I've made it equally clear that I will never back down from making sure that women have their reproductive rights here in this country. That's what's at stake in this election," he added to a standing ovation.

Earlier in the week McCain criticized Obama on abortion while appearing at a town hall meeting in Ohio near the West Virginia and Kentucky border. Answering a question about divorce rates, McCain said one way to improve the state of the American family would be to "respect human life, both born and unborn," Politico.com reported. The comment led to loud applause and to a standing ovation from many in the audience, the website reported.

"Sen. Obama voted against, as a member of the Illinois state legislature, a ban on partial-birth abortion," McCain said, calling the procedure "one of the most odious things I've ever heard of."

Partial-birth abortion is a late-term procedure in which a doctor partially delivers a baby feet-first, and -- with the head and much of the body still in the birth canal -- uses scissors to puncture the skull and then suction out the brain, killing the child instantly. Congress passed a federal ban on the procedure, but Obama is co-sponsor of a new bill, the Freedom of Choice Act, aimed at overturning the ban on partial-birth abortion and other pro-life laws nationwide. The law would make abortion a federal right and would keep abortion legal, even if Roe v. Wade is overturned someday. He said in a 2007 speech that the "first thing" he'd do as president is sign the bill.

In endorsing Obama, Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards called the senator from Illinois a "passionate advocate for women's rights."

"As president, he will improve access to quality health care for women [and] support and protect a woman's right to choose ...," she said, according to a statement.

Abortion increasingly is becoming an issue in the presidential race as both candidates seek to solidify their base. Obama's latest statement on abortion came one week after an interview was published in which he told a Christian magazine that late-term abortions shouldn't be allowed for "mental distress" -- a position in direct conflict with his sponsorship of the Freedom of Choice Act. An Obama spokesperson later backtracked; legal experts said Obama's words were in direct conflict with his own previous statements and positions.

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, whose organization seeks to help elect pro-life women to political office, criticized Obama's interview with the magazine.

"Barack Obama knows his extreme record on abortion doesn't resonate with everyday American voters, so now he's trying to soften his image," she said in a statement. "It won't work. From his active opposition to the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act to his support for the radical Freedom of Choice Act, Barack Obama is anything but moderate on abortion. He's announced abortion on demand as his top legislative priority. So it is not a surprise that Obama's actual voting record shows his commitment to abortion at any time, for any reason, funded by American taxpayers. He has staked out the minority position on an issue about which Americans care deeply."

POLL FINDS RELIGION DIVIDE -- Republican John McCain leads among religious voters while Democrat Barack Obama leads among non-religious voters, according to a Gallup poll released July 8.

McCain leads 50-40 percent among registered voters who say "religion is important in my life" while Obama leads 55-36 percent among those who say "religion is not important in my life."

The difference is even greater among some sub-groups. For instance, McCain leads 63-27 percent among white voters who identity as either Protestant or non-Catholic Christian and who say religion is important to them. McCain also leads 53-37 percent among non-Hispanic white Catholics for whom religion is important.

But Obama leads 57-31 percent among Hispanic Catholics who say religion is important, and 90-4 percent among blacks who identify as non-Catholic Christians.

The survey was based on telephone interviews with 94,872 registered voters from March through June.

Michael Foust is an assistant editor for Baptist Press.

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