I’m sure you’ve seen the latest kerfuffle about Obama and the Born Alive legislation; I think the best summary is here. My cliff notes version:
-Obama voted against Illinois “Born Alive” legislation in 2001 and 2003
-Such legislation was drafted after Jill Stanek (warning: right now there’s a very graphic picture on the front page) reported that doctors were screwing up abortions, i.e., producing live babies and then leaving them to die.
-Based on her testimony and other evidence, the legislation said that if a doctor screwed up and birthed a live baby, that baby was no longer a fetus, but a person, i.e. deserving of health care etc. etc.
-Obama and his campaign have thrown out at least three different excuses/reasons for his votes; I personally have not found any of them convincing.
Per Red State (good summary there also), I read through the Senate notes when the Born Alive legislation was discussed in 2002. They quote it accurately; Obama’s concern, as cited on record, was about the doctors. What interested me, though, was a paragraph a bit later (typed by hand, so any errors are mine). Obama explains that the proposed practice of calling in a second doctor to verify whether an infant (or fetus, pick your terminology) is alive
is really designed simply to burden the original decision of the woman and the physician to induce labor and perform and abortion. Now, if that’s the case – and — and I know that some of us feel very strongly one way or another on that issue – that’s fine, but I think it’s important to understand that this issue ultimately is about abortion and not live births. Because if these are children who are being born alive, I, at least, have confidence that a doctor who is in that room is going to make sure they’re looked after.
A swing and a miss. First, the bill was drafted because nurses in the hospital presented compelling evidence that doctors in the room were NOT looking after children being born alive. Second, he states that he believes that the bill’s real purpose is to make abortion more difficult and burdensome for the woman and doctor — and that THIS WOULD BE FINE if it were openly stated. Somehow I don’t think so.
The sad thing is, I can kind of understand how someone could protest this legislation. (Give me the rest of the paragraph, dear readers, and THEN you can burn me at the stake.) From a purely pro-choice viewpoint, I can see a worry that a bill like this would give doctors a reason to “botch” abortions and present live babies on purpose. Whether you believe abortion should be legal or not, a situation such as that — the doctor agrees to perform an abortion then purposely births a live child, knowing that s/he is protected legally — would be a breach of medical trust.
The problem is that Obama didn’t defend it that way. What he argued was that getting a backup opinion from a second doctor was secretly, insidiously meant to intimidate the woman or make the procedure more heinous. After all, “any doctor who is in that room” would look after any live infant, so what other reason could there be? Which ignores, rather incredibly, the testimony from Jill Stanek that put the whole shebang onto the radar screen in the first place.
So why did he oppose the bill? Was it his stated reason that the bill was 1) a burden on woman and doctor and 2) an unnecessary one, since any doctor would care for a live infant regardless of circumstances? Was it my devil’s-advocate defense, that pro-life doctors would, wholesale, start producing live babies (“Oopsie! Not dead, my bad!”) after having agreed to perform abortions? Or was it something else?
I think it was something else — which brings me back to my post title. I think Obama was trying too hard. In the same way that, looking for religion, he wandered into Trinity Church and stayed there for twenty years while its minister spewed hatred from the pulpit, I think Obama defended what he saw as a liberal cause without knowing why. I don’t think he had any specific objection against the legislation; for heaven’s sake, NARAL went neutral on it. I think he just assumed that he should oppose it, as a good liberal would, and made up whatever reason came to mind.
It reminds me of my Civil Liberties course back in college, when I played Justice Stevens. I was a good student, sure, but not a lawyer. Nevertheless, I predicted with 95% accuracy how he would decide each court case, as they came up during the semester. It didn’t matter that his view of ConLaw was infinitely more knowledgeable, nuanced and experienced than mine; simply by being raised in a liberal environment, I knew what the “right” answer would be for Justice Stevens. (Which had a wonderful, healthful effect on my GPA.)
Without having a factual, or even strongly emotional, reason to oppose a bill that you think you should be opposing, what do you do? You pull out whatever reason comes to mind. You change that reason a few times. And when, years later, you’re running for president, you pull out more reasons, and call people liars.
Swing and a miss.