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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Did ‘Elite Media’ Ignore ‘Infanticide’?

Newt Gingrich was wrong when he accused the “elite media” of failing to ask Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign about his votes “in favor of infanticide.” In fact, there were reams of mainstream media reports about Obama’s votes as an Illinois state senator on the “born alive” legislation to which Gingrich refers.

Gingrich made his accusation during the Feb. 22 Arizona debate, trying to turn the tables on debate moderator John King’s question about the birth-control issue.

Gingrich: But I just want to point out, you did not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide.

Gingrich’s claim about “legalizing infanticide” goes back to 2004, when Obama’s Republican opponent for the U.S. Senate, Alan Keyes, claimed Obama’s votes amounted to infanticide, and hence, “Christ would not vote for Barack Obama.” And some of Obama’s critics raised the issue again in his 2008 presidential run, as was well publicized.

We’ll offer our own article on the subject as Exhibit A. We noted that the issue centered on Obama’s opposition to Illinois legislation in 2001, 2002 and 2003 that would have defined any aborted fetus that showed signs of life as a “born alive infant” entitled to legal protection, even if doctors believed it could not survive.

Obama said he opposed the 2001 and 2002 “born alive” bills as backdoor attacks on a woman’s legal right to abortion. Obama also noted that Illinois law already required physicians to protect the life of a fetus when there is “a reasonable likelihood of sustained survival of the fetus outside the womb, with or without artificial support.”

He accused his critics of “lying” about his position, and said he would have been “fully in support” of a similar federal bill that President Bush had signed in 2002, because it contained protections for Roe v. Wade. But we found reason to question that. Our story noted that Obama had actually voted in committee against a 2003 state bill that was nearly identical to the federal act he says he would have supported. Both contained identical clauses saying that nothing in the bills could be construed to affect legal rights of an unborn fetus, according to an undisputed summary written immediately after the committee’s 2003 mark-up session.

Whether the votes amounted to “infanticide” is a matter of interpretation. But we note that the sponsor of the “born alive” bill, former Illinois state Sen. Rick Winkel, wrote in a Chicago Tribune letter to the editor on Sept. 5, 2008, “None of those who voted against SB-1082 favored infanticide. Rather their zeal for pro-choice dogma was clearly the overriding force behind their negative votes rather than concern that my bill would protect babies who are born alive.”

Obama was confronted on the issue by the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody. His response — “people are lying” — was reported and discussed in a number of newspapers including the Washington Post and the Oregonian. And the issue of Obama’s votes was explored in detail in such newspapers as the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times.

The issue also came up during one of the 2008 presidential debates, when Sen. John McCain raised it, and CBS’ Bob Schieffer, the debate moderator, asked Obama to respond. Obama said, in part, “If it sounds incredible that I would vote to withhold lifesaving treatment from an infant, that’s because it’s not true.”

The Obama campaign even addressed the issue in a campaign ad in 2008, in which the narrator says Obama’s opponents took votes out of context to accuse Obama of “letting infants die,” an accusation the narrator calls “a despicable lie.”

We take no position on whether Obama’s explanation — that his votes were based on a desire to preserve abortion rights — passes muster. But contrary to Gingrich’s blustery outburst, the issue was hardly ignored by the mainstream media.

— Robert Farley