By Paul Kengor & Jarrett Skorup
In both 2000 and 2004, it was the so-called moral-religious “values voters” who were crucial to the election of George W. Bush. It is no secret that the Democrats want those voters in 2008. Barack Obama wants them badly. What stands in his way? For Obama, the problem is not so much the Reverend Jeremiah Wright as it is the issue of abortion — consistently the dominant political-social issue in the eyes of conservative Christians, from evangelical Protestants to devout Catholics. Obama’s abortion problem is a reality that has become especially evident in recent weeks, most notably in his public battle with Focus on the Family’s James Dobson.
But it’s more specific than that. Obama’s problem is not the run-of-the-mill, over-the-top abortion stridency that has come to define the modern Democratic party’s presidential nominee, from Bill Clinton to John Kerry, but specifically his abominable position on the matter of newborn babies who survive abortions.
This subject is beginning to receive publicity even in the mainstream press, as was evident in a recent exchange on CNN between Bill Bennett and Donna Brazile, but we doubt that even the most well-informed observers know the full story. First, some background:
In 2002, Congress passed the Born Alive Infant Protection Act (BAIPA). BAIPA is simple: It establishes that if an abortion is attempted on a fetus and the fetus survives — alas, magically morphing into a “baby” — everything medically possible must be done to save the child. Plainly, if a fetus takes a breath of air outside the womb, personhood has been established, and all persons in America must receive medical care from trained professionals on the scene. Americans are not to be denied emergency medical care.
Such legislation was necessary because of the countless number of times in which babies who survived abortions were not offered medical treatment after Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1973. Unknown numbers of these babies — unknown to the would-be mothers, to the medical community, to the general public — were left instead to die alone in a room, typically abandoned to a cold, hard, metal table, or in a trash can, behind closed doors, slowly gasping for air until they perished. Chalk it up as yet another glorious consequence of a woman’s “right to choose.” This China-like human-rights atrocity went on in America for three decades. Mercifully, at long last, Congress finally did something about it by introducing BAIPA in 2002.
In the early stages, the bill was opposed by NARAL and extremist pro-choice groups, but objections ceased as a vote on the bill approached, most likely in anticipation of the public outcry. Yes, even the abortion industry can occasionally smell a bad p.r. move. The bill passed overwhelming in the House, by a margin of 380-15, and unanimously in the Senate, where even the most fanatical abortion-rights advocates — from Barbara Boxer to Hillary Clinton — were on board.
The bill was signed into law by President Bush on August 5, 2002. In attendance was Gianna Jessen, who in 1977 had survived a saline abortion attempt.
Remarking on the rare moment of unanimity was Senator Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.): “I, as being a pro-choice senator on this side, representing my colleagues here, have no problem whatsoever with this.” She added, “I feel good that we can, in fact, vote for this together. It is very rare that we can.” Indeed, it is.
Who could possibly oppose such legislation?
That brings us to Barack Obama, the Democratic party’s presidential candidate for 2008.
At the time that BAIPA went through the U.S. Congress, Obama was a member of the Illinois Senate, meaning, of course, that he could not vote on the federal BAIPA bill. He could, however, vote on such legislation if it were introduced in Illinois, as was being done by state legislatures around the country. That opportunity came when legislation was introduced in the Illinois legislature.
Offering testimony on the Illinois version of BAIPA was an eyewitness to the horror of these “survivor” abortions: Jill Stanek, a nurse from a hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois, who had witnessed several occasions of babies surviving attempted abortions and then being left to die. For Stanek, recalling these episodes is like revisiting a nightmare in painstaking, graphic detail. But Stanek saw her testimony as a necessary evil to what she figured would be a “no-brainer” for Illinois legislators. She would later admit that she had been “naïve.” Her no-brainer met a major, unforeseen obstacle: a committee member named Barack Obama.
From the moment of her testimony, Stanek sensed she was in trouble: She recalled an incident when she was asked to take an aborted Down’s Syndrome baby to the hospital “Soiled Utility Room,” where the “attempted-aborted” babies were sent to take their final breaths. The little boy’s parents did not want to hold him, and none of the other nurses could find the time or bear the agony. Stanek remembers rocking the baby in her arms for the final 45 minutes that he suffered an excruciating life. “He was too weak to move very much,” she remembered, “expending any energy he had trying to breathe. Toward the end, he was so quiet that I couldn’t tell if he was still alive unless I held him up to the light to see if his heart was still beating through his chest wall.”
This incident took place at Christ Hospital, which would fire Stanek for her testimony.
Stanek was struck by Sen. Barack Obama’s cold, non-response to her testimony: Interviewed for this article, she told us that he appeared “unmoved” by her testimony and “even argued against it.” He told her, “What we are doing here is to create one more burden on a woman and I can’t support that.” Perhaps signaling his April 2008 remarks about his daughters, Obama could not imagine these un-desiring mothers being “punished with a baby.”
Obama gazed right past Stanek’s image of a gasping, dying, abandoned, newborn baby and instead saw an over-riding moral imperative: a woman’s “health-care choice.”
In Illinois, in order for a law to be sent to the full House and Senate, it must be approved within committee. The bill had been called up in the Senate Judiciary Committee — twice, in March 2001 and March 2002. Obama was a member of that committee. He first voted “present” on the bill and then later cast a “no” vote. It was there that he argued with Stanek’s testimony.
But that was nothing compared to the more decisive obstruction Obama provided as chair of the Health and Human Services Committee in March 2003, once the Democrats took control of the Illinois Senate. From that perch, Obama prevented the bill from being called up for a vote. In fact, he even refused to allow Stanek to testify orally, though he could not refuse to accept her written testimony. No doubt, Obama must have considered Stanek too persuasive to be permitted to speak.
Flying the flag for the “right to choose,” Obama, as committee chair, ensured that babies who survived abortions in Illinois would not receive emergency medical care, and thus would die. As Obama obstructed, time ticked away, with abortion survivors getting no protection from the state of Illinois and those “medical” providers who swore a Hippocratic Oath.
The gist of much of this has been reported, minus a few details. But what has been neglected is the crucial rest-of-the-story: As evidence of how Barack Obama did not simply oppose this legislation but was its primary if not sole hurdle, consider what happened to the Illinois legislation once Obama left the statehouse: It sailed right through.
In 2004, the people of Illinois elected Barack Obama to the U.S. Senate. This was wonderful news for abortion survivors in the state of Illinois — literally lifesaving. The act was reintroduced in 2005 and passed the Illinois House 116-0 and the Illinois Senate 52-0. Passage of the bill was more unanimous than even BAIPA in the U.S. Congress. Among the members of the Health and Human Services Committee that Obama had previously chaired, none voted against the bill in 2005.
Barack Obama had been totally alone in the Illinois legislature. His lone corner of support in the entire state was the small island of fanatics who make their living literally by killing unborn babies. It is no exaggeration to say that these people, and Barack Obama in solidarity with them, make supporters of partial-birth abortion look compassionate by comparison.
It should be added that Obama had been commended for his obstruction by the president of the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council, Pam Sutherland, who averred, “The legislation was written to ban abortion, plain and simple. Senator Obama saw the legislation, when he was there, for what it was.”
That, of course, is nonsense. This assertion was a classic red herring by the abortion industry. As obvious proof, abortion has not been banned anywhere in Illinois or nationwide with the passage of these laws protecting infants who survive abortions. Hillary Clinton understood that, as did Barbara Boxer, Ted Kennedy, and all of Obama’s current pro-choice colleagues in the U.S. Senate. Why couldn’t Barack Obama figure it out? Such poor decision-making, tragic misjudgment, or outright zealotry, is an important consideration for this frontrunner to become our next president — a man whose platform is about the future, change, and hope.
Democrats, who pride themselves on their alleged compassion, get angry and offended when their party is called the party of death. With Obama at the helm, they will do nothing to change the label. Quite the contrary, with Barack Obama as their voice, they are truly the party that has trashed the little guy.
— Paul Kengor is professor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. Jarrett Skorup is a student fellow at the Center for Vision & Values.
This article was first published in National Review Online.