The media, this time the Washington Post, are again tackling the issue of Obama’s opposition, as a state legislator, to a bill protecting infants who survive abortions.
Obama and his apologists gave several excuses for his position during his 2004 senatorial and 2008 presidential campaigns, and continue to do so now. They said he opposed it because the law already protected these infants — a claim the Post’s Michael Dobbs fell for in his 2008 “fact check” on this subject. They said he opposed it because the law lacked a clause clarifying that it did not protect fetuses within the womb. In fact Obama opposed a version of the bill that contained one (not that there was ever any need for it).
Here’s what Obama actually said on March 30, 2001, during debate over the legislation:
Number one, whenever we define a previable fetus as a person that is protected by the equal protection clause or the other elements in the Constitution, what we’re really saying is, in fact, that they are persons that are entitled to the kinds of protections that would be provided to a — a child, a nine-month-old — child that was delivered to term. That determination then, essentially, if it was accepted by a court, would forbid abortions to take place. I mean, it — it would essentially bar abortions, because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child, and if this is a child, then this would be an antiabortion statute. For that purpose, I think it would probably be found unconstitutional.
Obama went on to list a second reason for thinking the bill unconstitutional, but it was the same as the first: By requiring a doctor to treat a pre-viable infant as a child — by providing the child medical care — the bill violated Roe.
State Senator Obama understood perfectly well that the bill did not apply within the womb, and never said otherwise. His point, to paraphrase it, was that granting legal protections to a pre-viable child was logically incompatible with Roe. He was wrong to predict the courts would see it that way: No court has struck down the type of legislation Illinois was considering; there is now a federal law on the books that is nearly identical to it. The Court’s jurisprudence makes the location of the developing human being — inside or outside the womb — decisive for whether it has a right to life, and not just its stage of development. (That’s one reason pro-lifers made partial-birth abortion an issue: to establish that a child partway out of the womb would be protected.)
That’s why Obama opposed the bill even when it included a redundant passage noting that by protecting infants born alive, i.e., outside the womb, it did not protect fetuses within the womb. He did not believe that human beings at that stage of development should have legal protection, whether inside or outside the womb. He opposed such protection on principle. It was the same argument that the pro-abortion group NARAL made in a July 20, 2000, press release on the federal version of the bill.
Commenting on a different piece of legislation, State Senator Obama raised a related objection to protections for pre-viable infants born alive: Granting them protection by requiring that a second doctor be present to treat any born-alive infant would “burden the original decision of the woman and the physician to induce labor and perform an abortion.” Legal protection for these infants, in addition to being wrong on principle, would inhibit abortion.