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Fact Checks

Did Barack Obama vote to deny rights to infant abortion survivors?

29 Jan, 2013


In an ad produced by Susan B. Anthony List  featuring Melissa Ohden, abortion survivor

How Will You Answer?

When he was in the Illinois state Senate, Barack Obama voted to deny basic Constitutional protections for babies born alive from an abortion — not once, but four times. I know it’s by the grace of God that I’m alive today, if only to ask America this question: Is this the kind of leadership that will lead us forward — that would discard the weakest among us?


Melissa Ohden’s Story

Melissa Ohden was born on August 29, 1977. Medical records of her delivery at St. Luke’s Medical Center, Sioux City, Iowa, indicate that she was admitted to intensive care on that date after “Saline infusion for an abortion was done but was unsuccessful” on August 24, 1977 and a pitocin drip was started on August 27 to induce delivery. She was erroneously estimated by medical personnel at the time of the abortion to be about 18 weeks’ gestation, when in fact she was closer to six or seven months’ gestation. The medical staff, prompted by a nurse who heard Melissa’s cries and observed her moving after the abortion, did not expect her to live due to respiratory distress and other complications. Melissa, nonetheless, survived and was adopted.

Barack Obama’s Votes and Explanation

The Born Alive Infant Protection acts would have defined the term “born alive infant” as “any member of the species homo sapiens” expelled or extracted from his or her mother that exhibits “a beating heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles.” Obama took issue with that part of the bill that said, “A live child born as a result of an abortion shall be fully recognized as a human person and accorded immediate protection under the law.” saying it could interfere with a woman’s right to an abortion, as established through the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

Audio: Obama argues against Born Alive legislation in IL state senate

He said:

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.

According to Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review, Obama’s point was that granting legal protections to a pre-viable child was logically incompatible with Roe vs Wade. However, no court has struck down the type of legislation Illinois was considering and 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.

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.

Obama’s believed that legislation offering protection for pre-viable infants would in principle erode Roe vs. Wade, and that’s why he opposed giving them any protection.


Did Melissa Ohden embellish her story?

The Washington Post  gives Ohden two “pinocchio”s for saying she was “discarded” instead of “let aside”, yet provides no evidence to say she wasn’t.

The Christian Broadcasting Network explained details of Ohden’s survival story, saying “a nurse heard [Ohden] crying from the discarded medical waste.” An article on the Susan B. Anthony List similarly said, “The medical staff, prompted by a nurse who retrieved her from the trash, did not expect Melissa to live due to respiratory distress and other complications.”

Irrespective of OhDen’s case, there are many other stories of abortion survivors.

The Washington Post’s assertion is FALSE

Is there any misunderstanding of Barack Obama’s position?

Obama swore during the 2008 election that he would have supported the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, prompting the National Right to Life Committee to issue a white paper that pointed out how he had contradicted himself by voting against the Illinois measure, which was almost an exact replica of the Federal bill.

Obama denied any contradiction during an interview that year with the Christian Broadcasting Network, accusing the antiabortion committee of lying about the circumstances of his vote:

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.

The Washington Post said of this: From what we can tell, Obama misrepresented the facts during this interview. The 2003 bill addressed his concerns about undermining Roe v. Wade, and it matched the federal legislation that he supported virtually word for word.

Politifact and FactCheck both rated this claim by Obama as FALSE and in an abdication of its status as a fact checker the Washington Post said “The evidence suggests we could have awarded Four Pinocchios to the former Illinois senator for his comments to the Christian Broadcasting Network, but that interview is several years old now, and it’s not the focus of this particular column.” and instead concentrated on attacking Melissa Ohden and Mike Huckabee.

There is no misunderstanding of Barack Obama’s position.


In the Illinois Senate Barack Obama voted to deny rights to abortion survivors.



Other Fact Check Links

Washington Post – Did Barack Obama vote to deny rights to infant abortion survivors?

Note that in this fact check everyone but Obama is awarded “pinochios”.