Yesterday I noted the importance of the abortion issue to evangelicals at the Saddleback Forum. It's also important to Catholics and other religious advocates of pro-life policies -- not that you have to be religious to be pro-life, of course. Obama has been working hard to appeal to religious voters who, in large part due to the abortion issue, have for decades been reliable supporters of Republican nominees for president. The campaign knows that abortion is a big stumbling block and Obama has been working to reach out to pro-lifers, strategically and rhetorically. It's a delicate walk when you have a perfect rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America for the three years you've been in the Senate (2008 ratings to come). NARAL endorsed Obama over Hillary Clinton, to give you an idea of how they view his support of abortion rights.
In an interview with Relevant, a Christian magazine, Obama said "mental distress" should not qualify as a justification for "late-term" abortions. People wondered if this was a slight moderation of Obama's firm stance in support of Roe v. Wade. Democratic base groups that support abortion rights were not pleased. He quickly clarified that he supports mental health exceptions to any ban on late-term abortions.
The media has been reporting heavily on Obama's outreach to pro-life religious voters, such as his appearance at the Saddleback Forum last night or his support from pro-life Catholics such as Douglas Kmiec. It's a very worthy story and significant in many ways.
But there's an abortion-related Barack Obama story I've been watching for months, waiting to review how the mainstream media will handle it. Unbelievably, it's been only lightly and sporadically covered -- and only at the surface. I have a feeling that's about to change owing to some recent major movement from the National Right to Life Committee. You can get hints that it's out there, heck it was out there in a different way in January, but there's little direct or current mainstream coverage . . . yet.
The issue is whether or not Obama voted against a bill in the Illinois State Legislature that would protect babies born after failed abortion attempts. I would point you to mainstream media coverage but there isn't much. To get up to speed on the underlying issues, at least from the perspective of the pro-life community, your best bet is to read David Freddoso's article on National Review Online (where my better half writes). National Review Online is a conservative Web site and Freddoso is an author of a book critical of Obama, but the first part of the piece is just reportage rather than analysis.
Basically the deal is that Jill Stanek, a nurse at a United Church of Christ-affiliated hospital in Illinois, was assisting with an abortion of a child who was deemed to have Down Syndrome. Despite the induced labor abortion, the baby was born alive. No one tried to save the baby. The hospital dismissed Stanek's concerns and the Republican Attorney General notified her that nothing illegal had occurred. A bill was proposed to rectify the apparently grey legal area. The bill would have required babies born after failed abortion attempts to be treated in the same manner as any other baby born alive. A federal version eventually passed the Senate unanimously and was signed into law. Reliable pro-choice legislators Barbara Boxer and Hillary Clinton, for instance, voted in favor of the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act.
There is no dispute that Obama opposed the bill in 2001, 2002 and 2003. However, he says he opposed it because it contained language that would somehow threaten Roe V. Wade. He says he would have supported the federal version. There is a passing reference to the issue in this recent religion-heavy CBS News report:
Most evangelicals remain strongly pro-life, and they don't like what they're hearing from the pro-choice presumptive Democratic nominee. (Gay marriage, by contrast, has faded as a key issue for young evangelicals.) Recently, conservatives have begun to focus on Obama's opposition as a state senator to the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, designed to require care for infants who survive a rare type of abortion.
Obama said he would have supported similar federal legislation, which was approved, had he been in Congress at the time. His campaign this week sent an email to reporters saying that Obama opposed the state legislation because it included language that could have been used to challenge Roe v. Wade.
I love that even an email from Obama to reporters doesn't seem to elicit coverage on this issue of major concern to evangelicals. And during the Saddleback extravaganza, no less. Sigh.
On the other hand, a commenter in the previous post reports that a CNN reporter tried to ask Obama about the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act after the Saddleback Forum and was told that his question was "offensive." So maybe reporters are trying but getting shut down.
Well, e-mail from the Obama campaign or no, the plot thickened late last week. It is true that there were various versions of the bill in each of the years that Obama opposed them but the National Right to Life Committee produced documentation, including legislative documents and contemporaneous media reports, showing that the 2003 version included the language that Obama says he would have required in order to support the bill.
Therefore, the scoop of the day goes to CBN Reporter David Brody who had a fascinating interview with Obama after the Saddleback Forum. It was a pretty friendly interview but he actually asked -- and got an answer -- about the issue:
Brody: Real quick, the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. I gotta tell you that's the one thing I get a lot of emails about and it's just not just from Evangelicals, it about Catholics, Protestants, main -- they're trying to understand it because there was some literature put out by the National Right to Life Committee. And they're basically saying they felt like you misrepresented your position on that bill.
Obama: Let me clarify this right now.
Brody: Because it's getting a lot of play.
Obama: Well and because they have not been telling the truth. And I hate to say that people are lying, but here's a situation where folks are lying. I have said repeatedly that I would have been completely in, fully in support of the federal bill that everybody supported - which was to say --that you should provide assistance to any infant that was born - even if it was as a consequence of an induced abortion. 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. By the way, we also had a bill, a law already in place in Illinois that insured life saving treatment was given to infants.
So for people to suggest that I and the Illinois medical society, so Illinois doctors were somehow in favor of withholding life saving support from an infant born alive is ridiculous. It defies commonsense and it defies imagination and for people to keep on pushing this is offensive and it's an example of the kind of politics that we have to get beyond. It's one thing for people to disagree with me about the issue of choice, it's another thing for people to out and out misrepresent my positions repeatedly, even after they know that they're wrong. And that's what's been happening.
The National Right to Life Committee says the bill that Obama voted against included this:
"(c) Nothing in this section shall be construed to affirm, deny, expand, or contract any legal status or legal right applicable to any member of the species homo sapiens at any point prior to being 'born alive' [Illinois: no quotes] as defined in this section."
Okay, so we've got fighting words here. The National Right to Life Committee is saying that Obama is lying about why he opposed the infant protection bill. Obama says they're lying. It's certainly true that only one of them is telling the truth. Certainly this is newsworthy. Certainly some reporters might want to dig into the documentation supplied by the NRLC and any other documentation supplied by the Obama campaign or independent sources and shed some light on who is telling the truth. A June story by CNN completely accepted Obama's version of events. That New York Times story on Obama and Catholics included Obama's explanation. How will subsequent stories on this topic change, if at all, in light of the new documentation?
The second image is a portion of one of the documents the NRLC put out. The first vote shows that Obama voted to amend the bill to include the "neutrality language" quoted above. The second vote shows Obama's vote to kill the amended bill in committee.