McCain isn’t perfect, but Obama will be the ‘abortion president’

While Republican presidential candidate John McCain is far from perfect on pro-life issues, Democratic nominee Barack Obama could usher in the most pro-abortion presidency ever. In July 2007, Obama promised a Planned Parenthood audience that the first thing he would do as president would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which he co-sponsored. The National Right to Life Committee says FOCA would obliterate all federal and state restrictions on abortion, including the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal Medicaid or other subsidies of abortion, parental notification laws and the partial-birth abortion ban.

In January, during the Democratic primaries, Obama bragged, “I’ve been a consistent and strong supporter of reproductive justice, and have consistently had a 100 per cent ‘pro-choice’ rating with Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.” He has promised to appoint only Supreme Court justices that support Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that permitted abortion-on-demand.

Obama, like his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton in 1993, will probably reverse the Mexico City Policy, which prohibits U.S. taxpayer funding of foreign abortion providers or advocates. Bush reinstated the policy on the first day of his presidency in 2001.

For much of the primaries, abortion wasn’t really an issue; the junior senator from Illinois was merely going through the pro-abortion motions most Democratic presidential wannabes go through. But as the summer inched toward the quadrennial party conventions, the Democrats found themselves on the defensive over their candidate’s abortion extremism.

He criticized a 2007 Supreme Court decision upholding a federal ban on partial-birth abortion, saying that it would embolden pro-life legislators to look for other ways to restrict abortion access. Asked a hypothetical question about if his daughters became pregnant, Obama said this spring he wouldn’t want them “punished with a baby.”

Most notably, Obama was forced to defend his record as a state senator in Illinois prior to 2004, when he opposed legislation that would protect children who survived an abortion attempt.

Initially, Obama misled the public about his true position on a piece of 2002 legislation in the Illinois state senate, the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. His story changed, but he said he voted for it (he did not), opposed it because it did not contain a clause reaffirming abortion rights (it did) and claimed that such a law was unnecessary, because the state already had legal protections for children who survived botched abortions (it did not).

He opposed the law in three straight legislative sessions, including twice in committee, and twice spoke out against it on the floor of the state senate. It was modeled on a federal born alive infant protection bill, which not even NARAL opposed. Yet, Obama insisted that the legislation was really “about abortion, not live births.”

Obama didn’t help himself during a debate at the Saddleback Church with Pastor Rick Warren, author of the best-selling The Purpose Driven Life. Warren asked unusually penetrating questions of the candidates, including, “At what point is a baby entitled to human rights?” After hemming and hawing, discussing the theological and scientific approaches to the question, Obama said “answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade.” He then reaffirmed his pro-abortion bona fides. The pay grade comment led to plenty of snickering criticism.

The Democrats have attempted to reach out to “values voters” by having the party platform express a desire to reduce the number of abortions. The platform affirms the party “strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access” to pre- and post-natal health programs, parenting lessons, income support for families with children and adoption programs. But, like many pro-abortion supporters who say they want to cut the number of abortions, Obama supports contraception; as a state senator, he voted for regulations requiring health insurance plans to pay for contraceptives.

None of this is to suggest that the Republican, John McCain, is perfect. The Arizona senator supports embryonic stem cell research, voted in the 1990s to confirm Bill Clinton’s pro-abortion Supreme Court justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and in 2000 sought to change the Republican platform that calls for a Human Life Amendment to the constitution and to ease opposition to abortion in cases of rape and incest.

But, for the most part, McCain has a pro-life record. As the National Right to Life Committee notes, “Senator John McCain has an exemplary voting record against abortion,” casting 31 pro-life votes in the Senate since 1997, including a law that made it a crime to take minors across state lines to obtain an abortion and the federal ban on partial-birth abortion. In 2005, he voted to confirm pro-life Supreme Court justices Robert Alito and John Roberts.

More recently, after talking to Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life and Dr. Jack Willke of the International Right to Life Federation, he signalled he is willing to reconsider his support for embryonic stem cell research.

In mid-April, McCain told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, “The rights of the unborn is one of my most important values.” And during the Saddleback debate with Pastor Warren, McCain said, without pause — and to great applause – that a baby gets human rights “at the moment of conception.”

Yet, McCain continues to send mixed signals over his pro-life credentials. In mid-August, he said he might pick a pro-abortion running mate, perhaps former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge or independent Connecticut Senator and former 2000 Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman. (The Interim went to press the week McCain was expected to announce the Republican vice-presidential candidate.) McCain said that “it’s a fundamental tenet of our party to be pro-life, but that does not mean we exclude people from our party that are pro-choice.”

Pro-life leaders warned that picking a pro-abortion running mate would be a mistake. Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said, “McCain has to have a running mate that clearly connects with social conservatives in the party,” because “that is where he is lacking.” Perkins said that many socially conservative evangelicals would stay home on election day if McCain picked a pro-abortion running mate.

Obama picked Delaware Senator Joseph Biden, a pro-abortion Catholic, as his running mate.

Socially conservative voters are not excited about McCain. He has periodically sent mixed signals, such as his fight with the 2000 Republican platform committee and he is not pro-life on the stem cell issue. But, most consider McCain preferable to Obama, if for no other reason than the power to appoint judges. If the candidate elected in November were to serve two terms, he might reasonably be expected to appoint three Supreme Court justices.

Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Centre says that abortion appears to be one of Obama’s weaknesses. Unfortunately, for pro-life voters, McCain often appears uncomfortable discussing abortion. But, it appears by discussing it, and articulating a pro-life vision and hammering away at Obama’s extreme pro-abortion position, McCain could turn pro-life into a winning issue.