IN MARCH 2003, registered nurse Jill Stanek submitted a statement to the Illinois Senate Health and Human Services committee in which she reported that infants who survived abortions at her Oak Lawn hospital were sometimes "taken to the Soiled Utility Room and left alone to die." Stanek was lobbying the committee to approve the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002, which would have recognized any infant born alive after an abortion as a human being deserving legal protection. Barack Obama, then the committee chairman, defeated the bill with his fellow Democrats in a 6-4 party-line vote.
Obama's campaign website offers two reasons why the senator opposed the bill in 2003. First, the website claims that Obama did not support the state legislation because it lacked language "clarifying that the act would not be used to undermine Roe vs. Wade." The website cites Obama's assertion that he would have supported the similar federal born-alive bill, which included language clarifying that it would not undermine Roe v. Wade when it unanimously passed the Senate in 2001.
In fact, the federal legislation and the final version of the Illinois senate bill were essentially the same. On Monday, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) released documents that showed that the Illinois senate committee unanimously approved an amendment that made the state legislation almost identical to the federal legislation. The amendment provided that the act should not 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'". This was the precise language of the federal bill Obama thought to be a sufficient protection of Roe v. Wade.
The other reason Obama opposed the bill, according to his website, is that the "born alive principle was already the law in Illinois." An existing 1975 law is cited as proof that new legislation was unnecessary.
Illinois state senator Dale Righter, the ranking Republican on the 2003 Health and Human Services Committee, says Obama did not raise that concern at the hearing: "There was no discussion of anything like that." Democratic state senator Susan Garrett similarly says she did not remember the 1975 law being raised during the hearing.
Obama's campaign did not return a phone call asking for a response to Righter's claim.
In any case, the 1975 law does not apply to non-viable infants born alive. According to Paul Linton, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, the 2003 bill was a response to the question, "What duties are owed to a non-viable child born alive?" The bill sought to guarantee comfort care for non-viable infants similar to the care that would be provided to any terminally ill adult. "Many of these babies lived for hours after birth," Susan T. Muskett, legislative counsel at the NRLC, writes in an email. "Are these babies medical waste, or persons protected by the Constitution? Obama's reaction was to consider them non-entities under Roe v. Wade until they were 'viable,' even when they were gasping outside the mother."
It is unclear why the six Democrats on the committee opposed the motion to pass the bill as amended on to the full Illinois senate.
A spokesman for Democratic state senator Mattie Hunter, the vice chairman of the committee, says that the Hunter voted "no" so that the Republican sponsor of the bill could work on it more. Democratic senator Susan Garrett had forgotten about the amended language in the bill, but when reminded of it she thought she might have voted "no" because "it gets into the quagmire of abortion." Planned Parenthood lobbyist Pam Sutherland believes that the Democrats pre-empted the Republicans by killing the bill. She says the "Born-Alive Infants Protection Act" was part of a bundle of three bills, and that the sponsors wanted "all three or nothing." However, the committee voted down the act independent of any other bill.
Christine Radogno, a Republican senator who voted for the act during the 2003 committee hearing, thinks that the Democrats killed the bill for political reasons. "Anything promoted by pro-life groups, the pro-choice Democrats just wouldn't be for it," she says. "They just didn't want to give the pro-life groups a victory."
Kevin Vance, a Collegiate Network fellow, is an editorial assistant at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.