Obama's 'born alive' vote becoming an issue
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama asserted Aug. 16 that National Right to Life was "lying" about his record as an Illinois state senator in opposing a bill commonly known as the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, a bill pro-lifers say protects against infanticide. But the pro-life organization says Obama is the one wrong on the facts.
The controversy -- which comes as the party tries to soften its abortion stance with a new platform -- surrounds Obama's opposition to bills in the Illinois state Senate from 2001-03 that would have required medical attention be given babies who survive botched abortions and that would have given them legal rights. On several occasions he was the leading opponent.
A nurse at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Chicago testified that she saw babies who had survived abortions left unattended to die, but surviving on their own for several hours. It shocked her so much that she is now a pro-life advocate.
Ever since he ran for U.S. Senate in Illinois in 2004, Obama has defended his opposition to the various bills by saying he would have supported them if they had contained "neutrality clause" language stating -- as a federal version did -- that the bills would not weaken abortion law. The federal version passed the U.S. House and Senate in 2002 by voice vote, with Senate passage coming unanimously.
But public documents released by National Right to Life Aug. 11 show that Obama, as committee chairman in the Illinois Senate in March 2003, voted against a version of the bill (S.B. 1082) that contained a neutrality clause identical to one in the federal bill, leading to its defeat on a 6-4 vote. In fact, the neutrality sentence was copied word for word from the federal bill. National Right to Life charges Obama was part of a "cover-up" and for years has "blatantly misrepresented" the truth.
The news is significant not only because it conflicts with Obama's own stated reasoning behind his opposition to the bill, but also because the federal bill had the support of the U.S. Senate's most pro-choice members, including Democrats Barbara Boxer and Ted Kennedy. Even NARAL Pro-Choice America -- a leading supporter of abortion rights -- didn't oppose it. Pro-lifers charge that if Obama in fact opposed a federal version of the bill on the state level, then he's further to the left on abortion than anyone in Washington.
FactCheck.org, a non-partisan website sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, has backed National Right to Life's version of the story, saying that Obama did vote against a bill he said he would have supported.
"We now know Barack Obama as state senator voted against identical Born Alive Infants Protection Act legislation that was passed overwhelmingly on the federal level and accepted by even NARAL," the aforementioned nurse, Jill Stanek, wrote on her blog. "For 4 years Barack Obama has misrepresented his vote and must answer for that."
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called Obama "the most radically pro-choice nominee ever nominated by a major party."
"Barack Obama voted against the born alive infants protection act in the Illinois state senate and against the ban on partial-birth abortion, which means that Sen. Obama has never met an abortion he couldn't live with," Land told Baptist Press.
In 2004 Obama told the Chicago Tribune he opposed the state bill because it "lacked the federal language clarifying that the act would not be used to undermine Roe vs. Wade." He has repeated that claim, with his campaign telling The New York Times in an Aug. 6 story that Obama would have supported a similar bill as the federal one. Obama himself told CBN's David Brody Aug. 16, "I have said repeatedly that I would have been ... fully in support of the federal bill that everybody supported.... That was not the bill that was presented at the state level. What that bill also was doing was trying to undermine Roe vs. Wade." In the same interview, Obama said of National Right to Life, "I hate to say that people are lying, but here's a situation where folks are lying."
Obama's campaign, though, acknowledged to the New York Sun in an Aug. 18 story that he did vote against a bill that was identical to the one on the federal level. The campaign now says Obama opposed the state bill because it would have weakened existing Illinois state abortion law -- a reason pro-lifers say wasn't previously given, and one that amounts to changing the subject. Obama's campaign also says that existing Illinois law already protected babies from botched abortions, although National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru disagrees and says existing Illinois law protected only post-viability babies, and not pre-viability babies. The bill would have closed that loophole, he says.
The neutrality clause that was part of the federal bill and added to the Illinois bill stated that "nothing" in the bill "shall be construed to affirm, deny, expand, or contract any legal status or legal right" to a baby prior to being born alive. Both the federal bill and the Illinois bill defined a "born alive" aborted baby as one who is completely outside the mother's body but who still "breathes or has a beating heart," has "pulsation of the umbilical cord" or shows "definite movement of voluntary muscles."
The national controversy over Obama's opposition to the bill has been brewing for more than a year, but is getting far more attention now that Obama is the presumptive nominee, and now that National Right to Life has released the documents.
"Let's be clear about what Obama did, once in 2003 and twice before that. He effectively voted for infanticide," former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, a Republican, wrote in a February editorial in The Philadelphia Inquirer. "He voted to allow doctors to deny medically appropriate treatment or, worse yet, actively kill a completely delivered living baby. Infanticide -- I wonder if he'll add this to the list of changes in his next victory speech and if the crowd will roar: 'Yes, we can.'"
The procedure that normally resulted in a botched abortion is called "induced labor abortion" and requires inducing the woman, with the goal that the baby will die during labor. But sometimes, as Stanek testified before the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee in 2001, the baby survives.
"In the event that a baby is aborted alive at Christ Hospital, he or she is not given any medical care, but is rather given what my hospital calls 'comfort care,'" she testified, according to a transcript. "'Comfort care' is defined as keeping the baby warm in a blanket until the baby dies, although until recently even this was not always done."
Parents were given the opportunity to hold their aborted baby, but most of the time they declined. Stanek then told of how she watched one particular baby die, a moment that helped change her mind about abortion.
"One night, a nursing coworker was taking an aborted Down Syndrome baby who was born alive to our Soiled Utility Room because his parents did not want to hold him, and she did not have time to hold him," Stanek testified. "I could not bear the thought of this suffering child dying alone in a Soiled Utility Room, so I cradled and rocked him for the 45 minutes that he lived. He was 21 to 22 weeks old, weighed about half a pound, and was about 10 inches long. He was too weak to move very much, expending any energy he had -- trying to breath.
"Toward the end, he was so quiet that I couldn't tell if he was still alive, unless I held him up to the light to see if his heart was still beating through his chest wall. After he was pronounced dead, we folded his little arms across his chest, wrapped him in a tiny shroud, and carried him to the hospital morgue where all of our dead patients are taken."
The controversy comes as the Democratic National Convention gets set to adopt a platform with language meant to attract voters who are concerned about the party's pro-choice image. Pro-lifers, though, say the new platform does little to advance the pro-life cause. The organization Democrats for Life says the platform falls far short of its goals.
The new proposed platform begins by saying the "Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right." The "ability to pay" reference -- which was in the previous platform -- apparently puts the party on record as supporting taxpayer-funded abortion. The new platform language asserts that family planning and sex education reduces "the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce[s] the need for abortions." It also says the party "strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre and post natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs." The new platform deletes the following sentence from the previous platform: "Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare."
Land, of the Southern Baptists Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, says the new platform remains staunchly pro-choice.
"I'm glad that they want programs to support women having their children," Land said. "That's a step in the right direction. We have supported legislation in the Congress -- put forward by Democrats for Life and others -- that would essentially do those things. But then [writers of the platform] turn around and take out the language in the previous platform that said their goal was to make abortion safe, legal and rare. So what the right hand gives, the left hand takes away. This is far from a pro-life platform. It is still an extremely pro-choice platform plank. This is a distinction without a difference.
"One who is taken in by this is being gullible in the extreme."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.
Obama's response to National Right to Life's charges can be read here:
National Right of Life's response to Obama's charge can be read at www.nrlc.org/ObamaBAIPA/Obamacoveruponbornalive.htm.