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.
During Obama’s presidential campaign, pro-lifers argued that so extreme was his devotion to abortion that he was willing to support a right to infanticide. This charge is absolutely true. He believed that certain infants — those at an early stage of development — should not have legal protection, and he believed it because he thought it would undermine the right to abortion.
Here’s what the Washington Post’s Josh Hicks makes of all this in “fact-checking” an anti-Obama ad by Susan B. Anthony List. Hicks quotes the same Obama remarks I did (“Number one, when . . . ”) and writes:
Notice that Obama referred to “previable fetuses,” or those that do not have a reasonable chance of survival outside the mother’s body. Obama’s primary concern seems to be that the born-alive act would prohibit aborting a fetus still inside the womb.
Critics contend that this interpretation is not necessarily true because some previable fetuses survive after delivery from an unsuccessful abortion. They argue that Obama essentially opposed protecting the survivors.
Hicks is misinterpreting Obama. He never said he worried that the law would apply inside the womb, and he still opposed the bill when it added language clarifying that it wouldn’t. At no point does he suggest that it would be okay to provide legal protection to pre-viable infants who survive abortions. That’s because he opposed such protection.
A speaker in the ad Hicks is considering, Melissa Ohden, says that Obama “voted to deny basic Constitutional protections for babies born alive from an abortion.” Hicks writes, “This is true in the sense that the Illinois bills would have guaranteed certain protections for these infants. But Ohden’s claim lacks context: Obama’s objections to the bill suggest that he wasn’t so much bent on denying rights to newborns as wanting to block any legislation that could erode the premise of the Roe v. Wade decision.” He then awards Ohden “one Pinocchio for her slanted take on the president’s position.”
What Ohden said was true in the sense of being true, and Hicks’s criticism is irrelevant. Yes, Obama thought that legislation offering protection for pre-viable infants would in principle erode Roe’s premise, and that’s why he opposed giving them any protection. In other words: Just as pro-lifers have long maintained, his devotion to abortion was so extreme that he thought a form of infanticide should remain legal.
[Mike] Huckabee said Obama “believes that human life is disposable and expendable . . . even beyond the womb.” But this is a mischaracterization of the president’s stance on the Born-Alive Infants Protection legislation in Illinois.
Granted, we don’t know why Obama voted against the 2003 bill that included a clause to protect abortion rights. The measure never made it out of committee, and comments from the meetings are not recorded. Nonetheless, we find it hard to fathom that the former senator expressed a belief that human life is disposable outside the womb.
Huckabee earns Three Pinocchios for his twisted interpretation of Obama’s no votes.
Huckabee was right: Obama did believe that at least some human lives, “even beyond the womb,” are “disposable and expendable.” He believed that for the law to treat them otherwise would be wrong. Whatever Hicks can or cannot fathom, Obama expressed that view both in his words and in his votes.
Hicks deserves credit, however, for noting that Obama has made false statements about his record on this issue. He even says that if he were grading his 2008 comments today, he would give him four Pinocchios. That’s an improvement over the Post’s performance in 2008, when it was the worst of a bad lot of “fact-checkers.” Perhaps when Obama’s third memoir comes out, the Post will finally be ready to admit that Obama supported a right to infanticide for pre-viable infants, and pro-lifers had it right all along.
— Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor of National Review.