Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Obama's Abortion Problem

There's a burgeoning controversy related to Barack Obama and his opposition to the Illinois version of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. The Washington Post provides some background as part of an article that discusses the abortion issue as it qapplies to the Presidential battle...
Abortion foes are now accusing Obama of being an abortion-rights extremist. In recent days, the National Right to Life Committee has charged that Obama is misrepresenting his record to broaden his appeal. At issue is a measure in both Illinois and Congress called the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which defines as a protected human any life expelled from a mother. Abortion foes championed the cause when an Illinois nurse and antiabortion activist said some pre-viable fetuses were being aborted by inducing labor and then being allowed to die.

Obama, then a state senator, opposed the measure in 2001, saying it crossed the line of constitutionality and "essentially says that a doctor is required to provide treatment to a pre-viable child, or fetus."

As a committee chairman in the state Senate in 2003, Obama supported GOP efforts to add language to the act, copied from federal legislation, clarifying that it would have no legal impact on the availability of abortions. Obama then opposed the bill's final passage. Since then, he has said he would have backed the bill as it was written and approved almost unanimously the year before.

Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, charged that Obama is trying to have it both ways because the Illinois bill he opposed was virtually identical to the federal law he said he would support.

Obama aides acknowledged yesterday that the wording of the state and federal bills was virtually identical. But, they added, the impact of a state law is different, because detailed abortion procedures and regulations are governed by states. Johnson and others are oversimplifying the situation, aides said.

"They have not been telling the truth," Obama told the Christian Broadcasting Network in response to a question on the matter. "And I hate to say that people are lying, but here's a situation where folks are lying."
Lying is a loaded term, even in politics. But Obama has a problem here -- if his opponents aren't lying, then Obama chose to fight a bill that called for the protection of infant children that survived an abortion.

So, who's lying? The New York Times tried to explain things...
In 2002, President Bush signed a federal “born alive” law. The measure passed by sweeping majorities in Congress, with the support of many legislators who usually vote against legislation favored by groups seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Even organizations like the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, now known as Naral Pro-Choice America, did not oppose the bill.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly said that he would have been willing to vote for such a measure in Illinois had it been identical to the federal statute. But “that was not the bill that was presented at the state level,” he said Saturday. “What that bill also was doing was trying to undermine Roe v. Wade.”

The statute Congress passed in 2002 and the one the Illinois committee rejected a year later are virtually identical. Both say, for example, that “the words ‘person,’ ‘human being,’ ‘child’ and ‘individual’ shall include every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development,” regardless of whether that birth “occurs as a result of natural or induced labor, cesarean section or induced abortion.”

That has led Mr. Obama’s critics to accuse him of playing fast and loose with the truth when he says he “would have been completely in, fully in support of the federal bill that everybody supported” if it had been offered at the state level.

“I don’t know whether he is lying or whether he forgot, but with his words, he is condemning himself, “ said Jill Stanek, a nurse in the Chicago area who was a main proponent of the federal measure and writes an anti-abortion blog. “He voted one way and then covered it up, and he has to explain that, not just to me, but to the American people.”

But the Illinois proposal always had a companion bill. The accompanying legislation, called the Induced Infant Liability Act, would have allowed legal action “on the child’s behalf for damages, including costs of care to preserve and protect the life, health and safety of the child, punitive damages, and costs and attorney’s fees, against a hospital, health care facility or health care provider who harms or neglects the child or fails to provide medical care to the child after the child’s birth.”

Groups that favor abortion rights say that bill would have introduced the possibility that doctors could be sued for failing to take extraordinary measures to save the lives of pre-viable infants, those born so prematurely that they could not possibly survive. As a result, they argue, it is disingenuous of anti-abortion organizations to claim that Mr. Obama was moving to quash only a narrow and innocuous definitional bill identical to federal law.
You know the answer for Obama's not looking good when even the Times admits the language in the bills is identical. Yuval Levin attacks the rationale set forth by the Times that Obama voted against the bill because it was being oushed as part of a package...
The excuse the Times pushes most forcefully is the absurd notion that because around the same time as the Born-Alive bill the legislature was also considering another bill that would have allowed children who survive abortions to also sue for damages, and because Obama and other abortion rights advocates didn’t think damages should be allowed, it makes sense that Obama would have voted against both bills. That’s simply nonsense. These were two separate bills, Obama voted on them separately, and he voted against not only the one that involved damage claims but also the one that did exactly the same thing in exactly the same way as a bill that had already passed unanimously at the federal level, and that he has since claimed he would have supported.

This new excuse is surely the lamest one yet, although the one offered to the Post (that things were different because this was a state bill, and state laws on abortion actually matter) does have the added advantage of explicitly contradicting Obama's past statement (noted by the Times) that he would have voted for the federal bill if one just like it had been proposed at the state level. The latest twist in the campaign's explanations suggest he actually wouldn't have. And of course, the facts demonstrate that he didn't.
Ouch. The logic here is tough to avoid. If Obama's objection was not to the first bill but the companion bill, one would have expected that to have been the logic his campaign initially put forth, not the tripe about the language in the bill undermining Roe. And that new explanation still doesn't explain why he couldn't vote for the first bill and against the companion bill -- indeed, a smart politician might well have championed the first bill and accused political opponents trying to push the second bill of trying to play politics with the lives of vulnerable infants (hey, maybe Obama really isn't a typical politician!).

Ramesh Ponnuru's summary leads to a troubling conclusion for Obama...
Illinois law has rules — loophole-ridden rules, but rules — requiring treatment of babies who have “sustainable survivability.” If an attempted abortion of a pre-viable fetus results in a live birth, the law did not protect the infant. Nurse Jill Stanek said that at her hospital “abortions” were repeatedly performed by inducing the live birth of a pre-viable fetus and then leaving it to die. When she made her report, the attorney general said that no law had been broken. That’s why legislators proposed a bill to fill the gap.

Obama did not want the gap filled. He did not want pre-viable fetuses/infants to have any legal protection. In the Illinois legislature, he argued that providing them with legal protection would both be unconstitutional in itself — a violation of the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence — and undermine the right to abortion.

Obama was wrong about these points. The Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence treats the location of the young human organism, not its stage of development, as the key factor in whether it can be legally protected. But that’s the ground on which he stood, at the time. In recent years, however, he has had very little to say about the importance of denying legal protection to this class of human beings. He knows that’s a losing argument politically. So he has instead been emitting a thick cloud of smoke.

Only yesterday has the Obama campaign finally, in desperation, gotten close to telling the truth about Obama’s position. In its latest apologia, the campaign isolates the language it found so objectionable in the Illinois bill. “A live child born as a result of an abortion shall be fully recognized as a human person and accorded immediate protection under the law.” The campaign calls this “Language Clearly Threatening Roe.”
If that language threatens Roe, then Roe is not sustainable. I think Obama's problem here is that he chose to think more like a lawyer than as a legislator. If he was that concerned with the law undermining Roe (or state precedents that he may have wanted to protect) did he look to find compromise language? Did he introduce compromise language? Perhaps others have a different value judgment, but this issue strikes me as important enough that it deserved a concerted effort by Obama to get acceptable language for passage.

At the end of the day, it's difficult for Obama to appeal to pro-lifers, because he is pro-choice. His past comments have indicated as such...
Speaking about sex education at an event in Pennsylvania Saturday, Obama said, according to the Christian Broadcasting Network, that he will educate his young daughters but “if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby. I don’t want them punished with an STD at the age of 16.”

A poor choice of words tro say the least, since the words can be read to say he's equating a baby born to an underage teenager with the teenager contracting an STD. I doubt Obama means it that way. But as the father of a one-year old daughter, I find the words offensive. One presumes that with loving parents, either of Obama's daughters could have a child and give it up for adoption. The punishment there would be suffering through pregnancy, which would be difficult. But I'd also argue that no matter what, there is punishment for the pregnant teen from an abortion -- you're talking about surgery and physical recovery, as well as the emotional scarring that often takes place for women who undergo abortions. No matter what, I have a hard time swallowing the argument that the child itself is a punishment.

At the end of the day, all this does is show that Obama is a traditional liberal with pro-choice beliefs. There's nothing wrong with being pro-choice, since we are allowed to hold differing positions on the issue. It's not surprising to see Obama twist himself in knots on this, though, because all but the most extreme pro-choice people would agree that if a baby survives an abortion, it should not be denied medical care. And Obama's position on this issue therefore looks extraordinarily extreme. If he's looking to court pro-life voters, he may have to admit to a mistake in voting against the Illinois bill. Otherwise, it's difficult to see obama as someone who actively respects a pro-life point of view.


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