Politics & Policy

Unholy Messaging

Obama's faith-based try vs. his positions.

The Barack Obama “messaging machine” is now in full overdrive mode, seeking to mislead religiously committed Americans into thinking that Obama has a middle-of-the-road position on abortion policy and will promote “abortion reduction.”

In late September, the Obama campaign kicked off a “Faith, Family & Values Tour.” A team of Obama surrogates — including Pepperdine University law school professor Douglas Kmiec, evangelical author Donald Miller, and former congressman Tim Roemer of Indiana — will travel from state to state, seeking the votes of religiously committed Americans. According to a report on BeliefNet.com, the surrogates will be “doing grass-roots evangelizing for Obama in community centers (neutral sites — no houses of worship) and homes. The tour will continue for weeks in most of the key battleground states.”

#ad#Another article, on ChristianityToday.com, said that the states to be visited by the tour during the next month include Colorado, Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Florida, New Mexico, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

One important part of the “faith outreach” sales pitch has been to insist that Obama would promote “abortion reduction” policies — that is to say, policies that would have the practical effect of reducing the number of abortions performed, without actually restricting abortion directly. This spiel was really a public relations strategy cooked up at a liberal think tank called third way, where veteran pro-abortion activists develop “messaging” strategies to help pro-abortion politicians camouflage their positions. The third way “Culture Program” (responsible for the “abortion reduction” strategy, among other projects) is directed by Rachel Laser, whose previous job was with the Health and Reproductive Rights group at the National Women’s Law Center, and who before that worked for Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, a major abortion provider.

But despite such efforts, more and more Americans are learning that the real Barack Obama is firmly committed to an agenda of sweeping pro-abortion policy changes that, if implemented, could be expected to drastically increase the numbers of abortions performed.

One component of the Obama abortion agenda, the so-called “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA, S. 1173), is coming under increased scrutiny from many quarters. The FOCA is the most sweeping piece of pro-abortion legislation ever proposed in Congress. It is a bill that would establish a federal “abortion right” broader than Roe v. Wade and, in the words of the National Organization for Women, “sweep away hundreds of anti-abortion laws [and] policies.”

In mid-September, every congressional office received a pointedly worded two-page letter on the FOCA from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), signed by Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia and chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-life Activities. Rigali notes, in his opening paragraph, “Pro-abortion groups and some of the bill’s congressional sponsors have said they want this legislation enacted soon.”

Personally, I am aware of only one congressional sponsor of the “Freedom of Choice Act” who has said anything publicly, in the past year or so, to indicate that he would like to see the bill enacted soon. That sponsor is the Democratic nominee for president of the United States, Senator Barack Obama.

Obama is not “merely” a cosponsor of the bill, but someone who has declared enactment of the FOCA to be a top priority. In his too-little-noted speech to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund on July 17, 2007, Obama said, “The first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That’s the first thing that I’d do.”

Rigali’s letter, and an accompanying six-page memorandum from the USCCB’s legal office, explain with great clarity the sweeping power of the language contained in the FOCA. Both the letter and the memorandum deserve a wide reading. Here, I will quote only briefly from Rigali’s letter: “First it [the FOCA] creates a ‘fundamental right’ to abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy, including a right to abort a fully developed child in the final weeks for undefined ‘health’ reasons. No government body at any level would be able to ‘deny or interfere with’ this newly created federal right. Second, it forbids government at all levels to ‘discriminate’ against the exercise of this right ‘in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.’ For the first time, abortion on demand would be a national entitlement that government must condone and promote in all public programs affecting pregnant women.”

Rigali also wrote: “However, there is one thing absolutely everyone should be able to agree on: We can’t reduce abortions by promoting abortion. . . . We cannot reduce abortions by insisting that every program supporting women in childbirth and child care must also support abortion. No one who sponsors or supports legislation like FOCA can credibly claim to be part of a good-faith discussion on how to reduce abortions.”


The mainstream-news media have, with few exceptions, been very compliant with Obama’s recent efforts to downplay his hard-line pro-abortion history and policy commitments, for the purpose of winning the general election.

For example, major media comparisons of the “abortion” positions of Obama and McCain often describe Obama’s supposed position in brief, vague terms, such as “supports abortion rights” or “supports Roe v. Wade,” which will be interpreted in very different ways by different people, and that avoid giving readers or viewers information about the specific abortion-related policies to which Obama is committed. These opaque characterizations are set side-by-side with detailed explorations of whether McCain supports any exceptions, the exact meaning of the Republican platform plank on abortion, and so forth.


The describing of Obama’s position in brief, vague ways is not the result of any dearth of detailed information. During Barack Obama’s entire political career, he has consistently supported the most expansive and hard-line “abortion rights” policies. For example, it is well-documented that in the Illinois state Senate, Obama led the opposition to legislation to protect babies who are born alive during abortions, and persisted in his opposition even after Congress had enacted a virtually identical federal bill without a single dissenting vote. Obama has in numerous ways actively misrepresented the content of this legislation, and his actions on it, but even when such misrepresentations were proved by NRLC and others, the major media simply let Obama abandon them and fall back to a different set of equally misleading claims.

During the Democratic-primary campaign, Obama and his operatives energetically challenged any suggestion that his past record on abortion or future pledges were in the slightest degree less supportive of abortion that those of Senator Hillary Clinton. And, that was true. Indeed, Clinton had voted for a federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (BAIPA) that was virtually identical to the Illinois BAIPA that Obama personally killed, in the committee he chaired, the following year.

#ad#Across the nation, crisis-pregnancy centers (CPCs) provide all manner of assistance to women who are experiencing crisis pregnancies, and they save the lives of many children. Some states have obtained a modest amount of federal funding for such programs. Late last year, RHrealitycheck.org, a prominent pro-abortion advocacy website, submitted in writing the following question to the Obama campaign (as part of a candidate questionnaire): “Does Sen. Obama support continuing federal funding for crisis pregnancy centers?” The Obama campaign response was short, but it spoke volumes: “No.”

Yet, as soon as Obama had secured the Democratic presidential nomination, the Obama machine started sending out very different messages in an attempt to present Obama as a middle-of-the-roader on abortion, a moderate, someone with a “nuanced” position on abortion, someone committed to government programs that would result in “abortion reduction.” Obama gave an interview to a religious publication in which he suggested he favored significant limits on “late-term” abortions (whatever that means). He quickly amended that statement to clarify that he only meant that a woman should not be able to get a “late-term” abortion merely because she was “feeling blue,” although even that hypothetical “restriction” would clearly be impermissible under the FOCA.


The mainstream media’s complicity in Obama’s soft-pedal strategy is illustrated by an editorial that appeared in the New York Times on September 21, titled “Right to Smear.” The editorial expressed the hope that the federal courts and the Federal Election Commission would prevent a group called The Real Truth About Obama, Inc., from disseminating an ad that, the Times said, “trashes the candidate’s nuanced position [on abortion]. It even employs an Obama-like voice pledging to make taxpayers pay for abortions, help minors conceal abortions from their parents, and legalize late-term abortions. To spread these lies, the group wants an injunction . . .”

Well. Any Times editor with a computer and a rudimentary familiarity with Google could have established, within ten minutes, that each of the three specific statements that the Times refers to as “these lies” is, in fact, a position which Obama firmly supports, and indeed took pains to highlight to various liberal groups during his primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. In fact, the Times editorial itself provides a pretty good illustration of why citizen groups ought to be able to present important information and opinions, regarding those who seek public office, directly to the public, without government-imposed restrictions or rationing, and without being filtered by “gatekeepers” such as the editors at the New York Times.


Let’s take a closer look at three purported “lies” that the Times wants the machinery of the federal government to suppress:

(1) Regarding “pledging to make taxpayers pay for abortions,” Obama has done just that. He has pledged that abortion (a.k.a. “reproductive health care”) will be part of his national health-insurance plan, and he has said that “the first thing I’d do as president” is sign the FOCA, which would clearly invalidate all state and federal policies limiting funding for abortion, as the bill’s chief sponsors and advocates openly proclaim. Moreover, in the Illinois senate Obama voted against restricting public funding for elective abortions.

#ad#Obama also advocates repeal of the Hyde Amendment, the law that since 1976 has blocked almost all federal funding of abortion. This has been one of the most successful “abortion reduction” policies ever adopted. By even the most conservative estimate, there are more than one million Americans alive today because of the Hyde Amendment — some of them are probably turning out for Obama’s “Faith, Family, & Values Tour” pep rallies. Even the Alan Guttmacher Institute (linked to Planned Parenthood) and NARAL admit that the Hyde Amendment (and the similar policies adopted by many states) have resulted in many, many babies being born who otherwise would have been aborted — indeed, the pro-abortion groups periodically put out papers complaining about this effect.  According to a 2007 NARAL factsheet, “A study by The Guttmacher Institute shows that Medicaid-eligible women in states that exclude abortion coverage have abortion rates of about half of those women in states that fund abortion care with their own dollars. This suggests that the Hyde amendment forces about half the women who would otherwise have abortions to carry unintended pregnancies to term and bear children against their wishes instead.”

In 1993, there was debate in Congress over whether to continue the Hyde Amendment. The Congressional Budget Office (at that time under Democratic control) wrote, “Based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and from States that currently pay for abortions using state funds, the federal government would probably fund between 325,000 to 675,000 abortions each year [if the federal government resumed Medicaid funding for abortion]. The increase in the total number of abortions would be smaller, however, because some abortions that are currently funded by other sources would be partially or totally paid from federal funds . . .”

Although Speaker Nancy Pelosi and most other Democratic congressional leaders are hostile to the Hyde Amendment, the law has been extended anyway because President Bush issued a letter in early 2007 saying that he would veto any bill that weakens any existing pro-life policy. However, because the Hyde Amendment (and a number of similar provisions that govern other federal programs) must be renewed annually, things could change quickly under a president determined to re-establish federal funding of abortion on demand.

(2) Regarding Obama’s desire to “help minors conceal abortions from their parents,” all laws requiring parental notification or consent for a minor daughter’s abortion would without doubt be invalidated by the FOCA. Moreover, since entering the U.S. Senate, Obama has had two opportunities to vote directly on the question of parental notification for interstate abortions on minors, and he voted no both times. (Voted against the Child Custody Protection Act [S. 403], July 25, 2006, Senate Roll Call No. 216, and voted against cloture on the Child Custody Protection Act as amended by the House to include provisions of the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, September 30, 2006, Senate Roll Call No. 263.)


More than half of the states have parental notification or consent laws in effect, which the Supreme Court has said are permitted under Roe v. Wade as long as they meet certain requirements, including availability of judges to authorize abortions without parental notification or consent. A recently released study by Michael New , assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama, found that laws requiring notification to or consent of at least one parent prior to a minor’s abortion have reduced the abortion rate among minors, in states that have enacted such laws, by approximately 13.6 percent on average (even though these laws have court-mandated judicial bypass provisions). In states that enact laws requiring the involvement of both parents, the in-state abortion rate among minors dropped by about 31 percent.


(3) Regarding “legalize late-term abortions,” the ad script to which the Times was objecting actually says that Obama would “make partial-birth abortion legal.” Obama opposed a partial-birth abortion ban in Illinois, and he criticized the U.S. Supreme Court for upholding the federal ban in 2007. The FOCA was reintroduced the day after that Supreme Court decision came down, at which time the FOCA chief sponsors proclaimed that the bill was necessary to (among other things) nullify the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.



It is not hard to understand why those who are trying to package Obama for general-election consumption do not want the spotlight to land on the “Freedom of Choice Act.” It is, as USCCB Associate General Counsel Michael F. Moses wrote in the legal memorandum sent to Congress with the Rigali letter, “a radical measure. . . . It would impose upon the entire country an abortion regime far worse than anything wrought by Roe or cases decided under it. It would jeopardize many laws enacted by the people and their elected representatives, at the federal and state level, over the last several decades.”


Nor are such statements solely the interpretations of critics of the bill. When she reintroduced the FOCA in 2004, the chief Senate sponsor, Senator Barbara Boxer (D., Ca.), issued a press release in which she said: “That [the operative language of FOCA] means women would have the absolute right to choose whether to continue or terminate their pregnancies before fetal viability, and that right would be protected by this legislation. The Freedom of Choice Act also supersedes any law, regulation or local ordinance that impinges on a woman’s right to choose.”

Boxer went on to spell out some of the tangible effects of the FOCA:

That means a poor woman cannot be denied the use of Medicaid if she chooses to have an abortion. That means that abortions cannot be prohibited at public hospitals, giving women more choices than private clinics. That means that we respect a woman’s ability to make her own decision, and don’t force women to attend anti-choice propaganda lectures, which submit women to misleading information, the purpose of which is to discourage abortion. That means that women serving our country in the military overseas would be able to afford safe abortions that can be performed in a military hospital. And, under our law, women who are denied their right to choose, or discriminated against will be able to go to court to enforce the law.

When pressed to address Obama’s support for the FOCA, Obama advocate Douglas Kmiec recently said, “I am not convinced this wholesale invalidation of state law is what is intended by the drafters of FOCA; what they have provided for in the draft legislative language; or what the judiciary would construe that language to mean.”

Since Kmiec is “not convinced” by the plain language of the bill or by the explicit statements of its chief sponsors, most likely he will also remain “not convinced” by the congruent assessments of the bill disseminated by the groups that lobby for its enactment. For example, a Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) factsheet explained, “FOCA will supersede anti-choice laws that restrict the right to choose, including laws that prohibit the public funding of abortions for poor women or counseling and referrals for abortions. Additionally, FOCA will prohibit onerous restrictions on a woman’s right to choose, such as mandated delays and targeted and medically unnecessary regulations.”


The PPFA factsheet also noted: “Parental consent or notification statutes have been used as a tool to deny access to abortion services for minors. When such laws deny or interfere with the ability of minors to access abortion services, they would violate FOCA.”

Kmiec’s nonchalant suggestion that the federal courts would likely protect the states from the destructive impact of the FOCA is certainly unpersuasive, especially considering the type of result-oriented jurists that Obama can be expected to nominate to the U.S. Supreme Court if he is given the opportunity.


It was very definitely not part of the Obama “messaging” strategy to talk to the “faith communities” about Obama’s commitment to the “Freedom of Choice Act” — a bill that, as Cardinal Rigali points out, “would counteract any and all sincere efforts by government to reduce abortions in our country.” It is, however, an honest journalist’s job to present information about the contending candidates in a straightforward, symmetrical fashion. That means it is long past time for honest journalists to start mentioning Obama’s commitment to the FOCA — and to accurately describe what that bill would do — at least as often as they discuss McCain’s position on a constitutional amendment on abortion.


The Constitution does not give the president any formal role whatever in the constitutional amendment process.  (A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress, and ratification by at least 38 state legislatures, but not the president’s signature.) With respect to regular bills, however, such as the “Freedom of Choice Act,” the president’s hand holds great power: to veto the bill — thereby protecting hundreds of pro-life laws and saving potentially millions of human lives, which is what a President John McCain would do if the “Freedom of Choice Act” reaches his desk — or to sign the execution order, as Barack Obama has pledged to do.

 — Douglas Johnson is legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee.

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