At the end of the vice presidential debate Thursday night, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan lobbed charges of extremism at one another on the issue of abortion. "The Democratic party used to say they want [abortion] to be safe, legal, and rare," Ryan said. "Now they support it without restriction and with taxpayer funding, taxpayer funding in Obamacare, taxpayer funding with foreign aid. The vice president himself went to China and said that he sympathized or wouldn’t second-guess their one-child policy of forced abortions and sterilizations. That, to me, is pretty extreme."
Biden shot back, saying that Ryan has "argued that, in the case of rape or incest, it was still--it would be a crime to engage in having an abortion. I just fundamentally disagree with my friend." Debate moderator Martha Raddatz followed up with Ryan, asking if pro-choice Americans should be "worried" about Romney, but she didn't follow up with Biden.
In the spin room following the debate, I asked top Obama officials, as well as Planned Parenthood chief Cecille Richards, if Obama's position on abortion is as extreme as what Ryan claimed. The Obama campaign denied the president favored abortion without restriction, but top Obama officials Jim Messina, Stephanie Cutter, and David Axelrod could not name a single restriction the president supports.
TWS: Mr Messina, the issue of abortion came up tonight with both sides trying to paint the other as extremist. Can you say, are there any restrictions that the president supports at any stage of pregnancy on the issue of abortion?
MESSINA: Look, we have been absolute[ly] clear. I think as you saw an absolute difference between the president and Romney on this. Romney’s position has been on four different sides. But I take him at his word that he says he will be happy to sign a bill outlawing all abortions in the United States of America. That’s not our position that’s not where the American public is. And I think it’s going to be a very difficult position for them to defend in the battleground states. Swing women voters in places like Colorado in Virginia looked at that exchange tonight that you talked about and said we cannot support this guy.
TWS: So the president doesn’t support any restrictions on abortion?
MESSINA: Look, we’ve been very clear. You know our position on abortion.
TWS: No. I asked, can you say what it is?
MESSINA: Look, don’t put words in my mouth. I’ve been very clear about our position. And that’s what it is.
TWS: Can you name one restriction?
Messina ended the exchange and moved on to another question.
Stephanie Cutter also said Obama supports some restrictions on abortion, but wouldn't say what they were:
TWS: Are there any restrictions he supports at any stage of pregnancy? Or there's no restrictions whatsover? Is that the president's position?
CUTTER: No, that’s not his position.
TWS: Then can you name one restriction that he supports on abortion?
CUTTER: He has several votes on this. We can get them to you.
David Axelrod similarly ducked questions. So I turned to Cecille Richards, the head of Planned Parenthood. "There already are restrictions on the books," she told me. But does the president support any of them? Richards said she didn't know. "I haven’t spoken to him about those," she replied.
In 2003, Barack Obama was asked if he was "all situations including the late term thing?" He answered in the affirmative.
The record doesn't appear to show that the president has ever supported any restriction on abortion. He opposes the Hyde amendment, which means he favors taxpayer funding of abortion. He opposed the ban on partial-birth abortion. And he opposed parental consent laws. We'll let you know if the Obama team is able to come up with any evidence showing that Obama's position is anything short of taxpayer-funded abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy.