Earlier versions of the bill, in 2001 and 2002, had met with opposition from abortion-rights groups, which contended that they would be used to challenge Roe v. Wade. Because the bills accorded human rights to pre-viable fetuses (that is, fetuses that could not live outside the womb) as long as they showed some vital signs outside the mother, abortion-rights groups saw them as the thin edge of a wedge that could be used to pry apart legal rights to abortion. Obama stated this objection on the Senate floor in discussion of both bills.
The documents from the NRLC support the group’s claims that Obama is misrepresenting the contents of SB 1082. But does this mean – as some, like anti-abortion crusader Jill Stanek, have claimed – that he supports infanticide?
In discussions of abortion rights, definitions are critically important. The main bills under discussion, SB 1082 and the federal BAIPA, are both definition bills. They are not about what can and should be done to babies; they are about how one defines "baby" in the first place. Those who believe that human life begins at conception or soon after can argue that even a fetus with no chance of surviving outside the womb is an "infant." We won't try to settle that one.
What we can say is that many other people – perhaps most – think of "infanticide" as the killing of an infant that would otherwise live. And there are already laws in Illinois, which Obama has said he supports, that protect these children even when they are born as the result of an abortion. Illinois compiled statute 720 ILCS 510/6 states that physicians performing abortions when the fetus is viable must use the procedure most likely to preserve the fetus' life; must be attended by another physician who can care for a born-alive infant; and must "exercise the same degree of professional skill, care and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child as would be required of a physician providing immediate medical care to a child born alive in the course of a pregnancy termination which was not an abortion." Failure to do any of the above is considered a felony. NRLC calls this law "loophole-ridden."
While we don't have a record of Obama's 2003 comments on SB 1082, he did express his objection to the 2001 and 2002 bills.
Obama, Senate floor, 2002: [A]dding a – an additional doctor who then has to be called in an emergency situation to come in and make these assessments is really designed simply to burden the original decision of the woman and the physician to induce labor and perform an abortion. … I think it’s important to understand that this issue ultimately is about abortion and not live births.Obama's critics are free to speculate on his motives for voting against the bills, and postulate a lack of concern for babies' welfare. But his stated reasons for opposing "born-alive" bills have to do with preserving abortion rights, a position he is known to support and has never hidden.
Obama, Senate floor, 2001: 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.
-by Jess Henig