Obama: “folks are lying”

obamababyonesieYesterday I noted the importance of the abortion issue to evangelicals at the Saddleback Forum. It’s also important to Catholics and other religious advocates of pro-life policies — not that you have to be religious to be pro-life, of course.

Obama has been working hard to appeal to religious voters who, in large part due to the abortion issue, have for decades been reliable supporters of Republican nominees for president. The campaign knows that abortion is a big stumbling block and Obama has been working to reach out to pro-lifers, strategically and rhetorically. It’s a delicate walk when you have a perfect rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America for the three years you’ve been in the Senate (2008 ratings to come). NARAL endorsed Obama over Hillary Clinton, to give you an idea of how they view his support of abortion rights.

In an interview with Relevant, a Christian magazine, Obama said “mental distress” should not qualify as a justification for “late-term” abortions. People wondered if this was a slight moderation of Obama’s firm stance in support of Roe v. Wade. Democratic base groups that support abortion rights were not pleased. He quickly clarified that he supports mental health exceptions to any ban on late-term abortions.

The media has been reporting heavily on Obama’s outreach to pro-life religious voters, such as his appearance at the Saddleback Forum last night or his support from pro-life Catholics such as Douglas Kmiec. It’s a very worthy story and significant in many ways.

But there’s an abortion-related Barack Obama story I’ve been watching for months, waiting to review how the mainstream media will handle it. Unbelievably, it’s been only lightly and sporadically covered — and only at the surface. I have a feeling that’s about to change owing to some recent major movement from the National Right to Life Committee. You can get hints that it’s out there, heck it was out there in a different way in January, but there’s little direct or current mainstream coverage . . . yet.

The issue is whether or not Obama voted against a bill in the Illinois State Legislature that would protect babies born after failed abortion attempts. I would point you to mainstream media coverage but there isn’t much. To get up to speed on the underlying issues, at least from the perspective of the pro-life community, your best bet is to read David Freddoso’s article on National Review Online (where my better half writes). National Review Online is a conservative Web site and Freddoso is an author of a book critical of Obama, but the first part of the piece is just reportage rather than analysis.

Basically the deal is that Jill Stanek, a nurse at a United Church of Christ-affiliated hospital in Illinois, was assisting with an abortion of a child who was deemed to have Down Syndrome. Despite the induced labor abortion, the baby was born alive. No one tried to save the baby. The hospital dismissed Stanek’s concerns and the Republican Attorney General notified her that nothing illegal had occurred. A bill was proposed to rectify the apparently grey legal area. The bill would have required babies born after failed abortion attempts to be treated in the same manner as any other baby born alive. A federal version eventually passed the Senate unanimously and was signed into law. Reliable pro-choice legislators Barbara Boxer and Hillary Clinton, for instance, voted in favor of the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act.

There is no dispute that Obama opposed the bill in 2001, 2002 and 2003. However, he says he opposed it because it contained language that would somehow threaten Roe V. Wade. He says he would have supported the federal version. There is a passing reference to the issue in this recent religion-heavy CBS News report:

Most evangelicals remain strongly pro-life, and they don’t like what they’re hearing from the pro-choice presumptive Democratic nominee. (Gay marriage, by contrast, has faded as a key issue for young evangelicals.) Recently, conservatives have begun to focus on Obama’s opposition as a state senator to the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, designed to require care for infants who survive a rare type of abortion.

Obama said he would have supported similar federal legislation, which was approved, had he been in Congress at the time. His campaign this week sent an email to reporters saying that Obama opposed the state legislation because it included language that could have been used to challenge Roe v. Wade.

I love that even an email from Obama to reporters doesn’t seem to elicit coverage on this issue of major concern to evangelicals. And during the Saddleback extravaganza, no less. Sigh.

On the other hand, a commenter in the previous post reports that a CNN reporter tried to ask Obama about the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act after the Saddleback Forum and was told that his question was “offensive.” So maybe reporters are trying but getting shut down.

Well, e-mail from the Obama campaign or no, the plot thickened late last week. It is true that there were various versions of the bill in each of the years that Obama opposed them but the National Right to Life Committee produced documentation, including legislative documents and contemporaneous media reports, showing that the 2003 version included the language that Obama says he would have required in order to support the bill.

Therefore, the scoop of the day goes to CBN Reporter David Brody who had a fascinating interview with Obama after the Saddleback Forum. It was a pretty friendly interview but he actually asked — and got an answer — about the issue:

Brody: Real quick, the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. I gotta tell you that’s the one thing I get a lot of emails about and it’s just not just from Evangelicals, it about Catholics, Protestants, main — they’re trying to understand it because there was some literature put out by the National Right to Life Committee. And they’re basically saying they felt like you misrepresented your position on that bill.

Obama: Let me clarify this right now.

Brody: Because it’s getting a lot of play.

Obama: Well and because they have not been telling the truth. And I hate to say that people are lying, but here’s a situation where folks are lying. I have said repeatedly that I would have been completely in, fully in support of the federal bill that everybody supported – which was to say –that you should provide assistance to any infant that was born – even if it was as a consequence of an induced abortion. That was not the bill that was presented at the state level. What that bill also was doing was trying to undermine Roe vs. Wade. By the way, we also had a bill, a law already in place in Illinois that insured life saving treatment was given to infants.

So for people to suggest that I and the Illinois medical society, so Illinois doctors were somehow in favor of withholding life saving support from an infant born alive is ridiculous. It defies commonsense and it defies imagination and for people to keep on pushing this is offensive and it’s an example of the kind of politics that we have to get beyond. It’s one thing for people to disagree with me about the issue of choice, it’s another thing for people to out and out misrepresent my positions repeatedly, even after they know that they’re wrong. And that’s what’s been happening.

The National Right to Life Committee says the bill that Obama voted against included this:

“(c) Nothing in this section shall be construed to affirm, deny, expand, or contract any legal status or legal right applicable to any member of the species homo sapiens at any point prior to being ‘born alive’ [Illinois: no quotes] as defined in this section.”

Okay, so we’ve got fighting words here. The National Right to Life Committee is saying that Obama is lying about why he opposed the infant protection bill. Obama says they’re lying. It’s certainly true that only one of them is telling the truth. Certainly this is newsworthy. Certainly some reporters might want to dig into the documentation supplied by the NRLC and any other documentation supplied by the Obama campaign or independent sources and shed some light on who is telling the truth. A June story by CNN completely accepted Obama’s version of events. That New York Times story on Obama and Catholics included Obama’s explanation. How will subsequent stories on this topic change, if at all, in light of the new documentation?

The second image is a portion of one of the documents the NRLC put out. The first vote shows that Obama voted to amend the bill to include the “neutrality language” quoted above. The second vote shows Obama’s vote to kill the amended bill in committee.

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  • Neela Banerjee


    Interesting post. One thing you and the blog should be careful of, though: assuming that ‘religious voters’, as you call them, are pro-life and pro-GOP. That’s the implication in your second graf.

    Obama isnt trying to woo ‘religious voters.’ He is courting those voters, largely evangelicals, whose support for the GOP he hopes is shaky for a variety of reasons. There are plenty of religious voters, across faiths, who support abortion rights. They are probably not the ones who have qualms with Obama’s position on this particular issue.


  • Stephen A.

    Point of clarification: It was actually a Christian Broadcasting Network reporter (who is working as an analyst for CNN now) who interviewed Obama after the Saddleback event, as I noted in #10 of the previous thread. So he was in fact lashing out and clarifying his position to a Christian audience as well as CNN’s.

    Neela, above, is right. Obama is trying to peel off enough Christian conservative voters to weaken John McCain, and he’s already weak with them anway so that’s a superb strategy, IMO.

    All this will be moot if McCain picks a pro-abortion VP runningmate like Ridge or (gulp) Lieberman. It will be all over for the GOP in November if that happens, because millions of conservatives will stay home.

  • pgcfriend

    On Friday afternoon Sean Hannity on his radio program interviewed the nurse mentioned in this post. I came in on the interview after she was introduced. She told the entire story. She referenced the different versions of the bill. I believe she also said that she testified in hearings dealing with this. She said she had the actual tanscripts. She is coming right out saying that Obama lied. He said he would deal with this over the weekend on his Hannity’s America program.

    I also found it interesting that you heard very little about this. I would think this is public record. I’m not surprised that David Brody was able to get the interview that he did.

  • Cavrade

    Could someone clarify why that “(c)” language is desirable? That looks like the very kind of paragraph that could be used to challenge Roe V. Wade. Its clear implication is that prior to being ‘born alive’ there exist human beings with rights. Why would such language make it more likely for Obama to vote for it?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    Just poor writing on my part. I was trying to discuss that subset of pro-life voters who are religious, not imply that all religious voters are pro-life. I was also trying to reference the issue that many reliably Republican voters are motivated in large part by the abortion issue. Take that issue away and you have people who would probably agree more with the economic and social principles of a different party.


    IANAL but I do know that the neutrality language was supported by both pro-life and pro-choice activists. I think it has to do with the importance of noting the clear legislative intent. Sometimes courts infer intent with a given piece of legislation. By specifically stating that NOTHING in the law should be construed to confer or expand any rights on unborn children, they make their legislative intent clear. That is, they make it clear that this bill should not be construed as having anything to say about abortion laws. Again, though, I am not a lawyer.

  • Martha

    “What that bill also was doing was trying to undermine Roe vs. Wade.”

    I think this is the key; I really do. It explains to me his particular stance on abortion rights and why he can, on the one hand, claim to be anti-abortion and on the other claim to be pro-choice.

    I’m not surprised he gets angry about the question; even the most seared conscience must be a little tender about accusations of infanticide.

    However, I think that this is precisely his reason why he killed the Bill – he thought it was the thin edge of the wedge, a Trojan Horse to attack or roll back Roe versus Wade in Illinois.

    He seems to be indissolubly wed to Roe versus Wade as the reasoning and rationale for pro-choice, and unfortunately, since Roe vs Wade is so amorphously worded it can be invoked to permit abortion practically up to full-term delivery, then he’s going to have problems with that.

  • Martha

    Well, now: looks like things are getting interesting.

    Hat tip to the American Papist blog, which links to this from the “New York Sun”:


    Indeed, Mr. Obama appeared to misstate his position in the CBN interview on Saturday when he said the federal version he supported “was not the bill that was presented at the state level.”

    His campaign yesterday acknowledged that he had voted against an identical bill in the state Senate, and a spokesman, Hari Sevugan, said the senator and other lawmakers had concerns that even as worded, the legislation could have undermined existing Illinois abortion law. Those concerns did not exist for the federal bill, because there is no federal abortion law.

    In 2005, the campaign noted, a “Born Alive” bill passed the Illinois Legislature after another clause had been added that explicitly stated that the legislation would have no effect on existing state abortion laws.”

    So what wording did the 2005 Bill have that the proposed and rejected 2003 Bill didn’t?

  • Erik

    The evidence seems to indicate that Obama is not telling the truth or trying to get out of a predicament. The later version of the bill included the language he asked for yet he still did not vote yes. To be consistant he would have had to vote no on the federal bill which others like Boxer and Clinton supported. Obama clearly believes that if an abortion was intended then the baby should be aborted even if he/she is already born.

  • Julia

    Seems like Obama argued for years up until Saturday night that he voted against the Illinois legislation because it would undermine Roe v Wade unlike the Federal law with different language.

    Newly-operative explanation – he voted against the Illinois legislation because it would undermine existing Illinois abortion laws, unlike the Federal law with the same language because there is no Federal abortion law.

    Fuzzy thinking for a former law professor – for whom precise legal reasoning should be paramount. Did he forget his original legal reasoning or invent new reasoning once the legislative documents became public?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Let’s keep focused on media coverage of religious news issues, not our personal support for or opposition to Obama/McCain/etc.

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  • http://www.jeremiahfilms.com/released/ Wayne

    I have linked to your post from SaddleBack Church Forum – McCain vs Obama, which contains the audio of the interviews. And, will be a reference location to link to for future posts related to statements.

  • SWMissouri

    6 Years! The Republican’s had control of both Houses of Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Supreme Court for 6 Years. Why did they NOT overturn Roe vs Wade? That’s the pivotal question here. 6 Years and nothing was done. 6 Years of Moral Authority and yet they did nothing. Why is that?

    Could it be that they don’t want this issue solved? That it makes for a great divisive issue that they can campaign on. They did absolutely nothing on an issue that they can rally the Moral folks of America on? 6 Years!

    The Republican’s don’t want a United States of America…they want a Divided States of America. Ask yourselves why…

  • SWMissouri

    No one has answered my question. You can debate this divisive BS until you are blue in the face…but the “Moral” party…the GOP, had in it’s power to do something about this but they didn’t. Why is that? They had all three branches of government for 6 years..yet they didn’t change the status quo. Why?

  • Jonathan

    You’re on the wrong blog. We’re not answering your question because it’s not relevant to the purpose of the blog. If you want to discuss politics, the GOP’s problems, etc., you’ll have to do it elsewhere. If you want to discuss the media coverage and its errors in addressing religious topics (or those times when it does a great job of covering religion), then this is the place.

  • http://parableman.net/ Jeremy Pierce

    SWMissouri, this isn’t supposed to be a blog about this, but you did ask a question that assumes a falsehood. Those who oppose Roe v. Wade did not ever control the Supreme Court during that six-year period. In fact, they have not controlled it at any time since that decision in 1972. This is the closest it’s ever been, and it’s still a 5-4 majority in favor of legalized abortion. It’s pretty crazy to think the legislative and executive branch can even do anything about that issue other than the president’s appointment of Supreme Court justices and the Senate’s approval of them, and it’s pretty crazy to take the current or previous lineup of the Supreme Court as a GOP majority when it comes to this issue.

    Now there is actually a media connection here, because I’ve seen countless media discussions of the Supreme Court that takes it to be Republican-controlled merely because the majority of its members were appointed by Republicans, but it’s quite a stretch to count the jurisprudence of John Paul Stevens and David Souter as anything close to the mainstream of the Republican Party, and Anthony Kennedy isn’t exactly in lock-step with them on a lot of issues. Thankfully this meme has ended and been replaced by the 4-4 split plus Kennedy wavering between the two extremes. It’s at least more accurate, even if it’s often led to false assumptions about what will happen (and the assumptions that last term would be definitive were handily disproved this term, where Kennedy had quite a few dissents in 5-4 cases).