Obama's Abortion Challenge

As the Democratic National Committee Convention approaches, the mandarins of the party, working with presumptive Presidential nominee Barack Obama, are scrambling to tailor a platform to garner the maximum number of votes come November. As has been the case for decades, abortion is a key issue.

As Democratic Party has drifted leftward, it has become even more pro-choice. Some of its more strident voices, as well as some of its wealthiest supporters and interest groups, see any restrictions on a woman's right to abortion as a mortal threat (not for the baby or "fetus", of course). This year poses particular challenges.

Senator Obama has problems with gaining supporting from Catholics and evangelicals who hold pro-life positions. During the primaries, Catholics flocked to support Hillary Clinton by overwhelming numbers. The Catholic vote is very important in key battleground states -- Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio among them.  Obama's history of support for abortion has come under increasing scrutiny, prompting a level of controversy that has begun to plague his campaign

The Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002

As a state legislator in Illinois, Senator Obama chaired the Illinois Senate Health and Human Services Committee. A nurse, Jill Stanek, appeared before the committee to lobby for the committee to approve the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002, which would have defined a baby born alive as a result of an abortion to be a human being deserving legal protection. At the time, there were news reports in Illinois of such babies being left to die. Ms. Stanek related her own story of seeing such babies being taken to a soiled utility room and left alone to die".

Obama, the committee chairman, joined with his fellow Democrats to defeat the bill. This was despite the fact that the bill was drafted to ensure that a woman's right to choose was protected. Nevertheless, he argued and voted against the bill stating -- wrongly -- that the bill was unconstitutional and posed a peril to the viability of Roe v Wade.

On March 30, 2001, Obama was the only state senator to speak in opposition to SB 1095. The bill was carefully limited, its language unambiguous. It applied only to premature babies, already born alive. It stated simply that under Illinois law,

"the words ‘person,' ‘human being,' ‘child,' and ‘individual' include every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development."

There was no conflict between this bill and the right to a legal abortion.

An identical bill -- the Born Alive Infants Bill -- was passed by the U.S. Senate 98-0 with support from even Senator Barbara Boxer, the Senate's leading pro-choice-champion, who stated that the bill did not pose any threats to the Roe v. Wade decision.

Obfuscating his history

The candidate has tried to obfuscate his history involving abortion and his excuses for opposing the Born Alive Infants Protection Act wither when scrutinized. His website claimed the Illinois bill lacked the language "clarifying that the act would not be used to undermine Roe v. Wade" and claims he would have supported the federal Born Alive Infants Bill had he been in the United States Senate.

Senator Obama has justified his strenuous objection to the Illinois bill by claiming that differences from the federal bill are the reason. This claim is false. The Federal legislation and the Illinois legislation were in fact virtually identical (see Obama's Abortion Distortion.  Jill Stanek has been doing outstanding investigative work on this issue.

Lately, the campaign has provided an equally spurious claim to excuse his voting against the bill: that "the born alive" principle was already enshrined in a 1975 law. His colleagues state that he never raised this concern when he was an Illinois legislator. In any case, the 1975 law would not apply to non-viable infants born alive.

According to Paul Linton, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, the 2003 bill was a response to the question, "What duties are owed to a non-viable child born alive?" The bill sought to guarantee comfort care for non-viable infants similar to the care that would be provided to any terminally ill adult. "Many of these babies lived for hours after birth," Susan T. Muskett, legislative counsel at the NRLC, writes in an email. "Are these babies medical waste, or persons protected by the Constitution? Obama's reaction was to consider them non-entities under Roe v. Wade until they were 'viable,' even when they were gasping outside the mother." 

Clearly, Barack Obama does not want to be linked to actions that, in effect, condoned infanticide. That would not comport well with the mantra of hope and change.

The candidate has been burnishing and airbrushing his history as November nears. One aspect of this effort is his attempt to recreate his own political history involving abortion. The Obama campaign handbook certainly seems inspired by George Orwell's masterpiece "1984".

He might also want Americans to ignore his full-throated support for abortion when he appeared at a Planned Parenthood event last year. He made it clear that he opposes any and all restrictions on abortion, including partial-birth abortions. As David Freddoso writes in his superb new book The Case Against Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the media's Favorite Candidate

 He promised at a Planned Parenthood event in July 2007 that "the first thing" he will do as president -- his top priority for the nation -- is sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which would erase every federal and state restriction on abortion, no matter how modest. His top priority, again, is to re-legalize partial birth abortion under all circumstances, abolish all laws on informed consent and parental notification, and eliminate all state restrictions on taxpayer funding of abortions.

Obama has only dug himself deeper in a hole when he expressed that he did not want his "daughter to be punished with a baby" should she inadvertently become pregnant.

The challenge for Senator Obama is to overcome his history of extremism in support of abortion rights. His campaign has deployed their trademark political chaff, accusing Bill Bennett of lying about Obama's views and record. He has muddled the issue on his own website. He has tried to convey an alternative history of his own actions. All to no avail.

The Platform

The convention platform thus presents one more chance to obscure the issue. As written at this point, the platform comes out strongly for abortion rights along with the usual calls for the need for sex education and family planning to reduce unintended pregnancies. The last paragraph is a departure:

"The Democratic Party also 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.''

In other words, low income mothers will be extended increased level of welfare support. This amounts to an underhanded way of gutting the welfare reform that was passed by the GOP Congress and finally signed by Bill Clinton. This reform sought to break the dynamic then at work among our less advantaged population: more babies led to more money from the government. The benefits offered by the government often just made problems with welfare dependency even more intractable. These reforms, which the Democratic platform hopes to abolish under the guise of abortion alternatives, were meant to break the cycle of dependency.  The platform strives to entice pro-life voters into supporting Obama but another goal may be as important: enshrine increased welfare benefits to unwed mothers.

Is Barack Obama trying to play social conservatives for suckers?

Pro-life liberals are disappointed by the Democratic platform. A summary of their views, courtesy of the Opinionator blog of the New York Times 

"The key linguistic debate has been whether to ‘reduce the number of abortions' or ‘reduce the need for abortions,'" Waldman writes on his Beliefnet blog. "Pro-life folks favored the former. Pro-choice folks favored the latter. The pro-choice folks won. In fact, the 2004 platform said abortion ‘should be safe, legal and rare' - language [that] casts abortion reduction as morally preferable, something this platform does not."

While the draft platform "includes -- for the first time -- language specifically designed to reduce the need for abortions," Waldman says that religious Democrats wanted it to go further, with "moral language casting abortion as a morally inferior choice." He concludes:

All in all, I'd say that this platform does NOT do what was necessary to win substantial numbers of Catholics or moderate evangelicals. However, in combination with a strong personal statement from Obama about the moral necessity of reducing abortion, the party could make real headway. All eyes now turn to Obama's performance at Saddleback Church later this week.
Daniel Schultz of Street Prophets, an online forum for religious liberals, agrees with Waldman's take. "Gone is the Clinton-era ‘safe, legal and rare' moralism, replaced with some rather vague wording about ‘abortion reduction,'" Schultz writes, using his Street Prophets handle, "pastordan."

Schultz points out that Dana Goldstein of The American Prospect interprets the new abortion plank "as a victory for feminist pro-choicers, not pro-lifers." In a post a Tapped, the Prospect's group blog, Goldstein calls the platform "a significant victory for reproductive rights advocates."

There are still two weeks to go before the Democratic National Convention. Obama has time to engage in more semantics to try to win support from the pro-life community. Pro-life Democrats will be given keynote spots; Senator Bob Casey will speak Tuesday night. Perhaps, Barack Obama will choose a Vice-Presidential candidate who will assuage the concerns of pro-lifers.

However, in the interim more people will focus on Barack Obama's views on abortion and on his legislative history on the issue.

Clearly, Senator Obama will strive to recast his image. His upcoming appearance at the influential evangelical Saddleback Church, founded by one of the nation's leading evangelical ministers Rick Warren, will give him the opportunity to do so.

Undoubtedly, he will make a strong statement to appeal to pro-lifers. But he must cast it in a way that would not lose him support from his pro-choice base. His speechwriters are superb; they will probably be able to navigate quite well between the political equivalent of Charybdis and Scylla.

But with the candidate already struggling with a growing perception that he is slippery with words, a Saddleback straddle could wind up costing him, even among some voters who don't care about abortion.

Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.