Obama born alive controversy

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Substantial controversy has surrounded Barack Obama's voting record as an Illinois state senator on abortion since 2004, when Alan Keyes, his opponent for the U.S. Senate, made Obama's record central to his campaign. Since then, Jill Stanek, a central witness before Congress, whose moving testimony led to passage of the federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act, has been the primary critic of Obama's voting record on the issue.

The votes are especially controversial because they fall outside the typical Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice debate, dealing not with abortion, but children left to die after botched abortions. From 1996-2003, Barack Obama made at least 7 controversial votes against bills mandating medical care for newborn children after late-term, botched abortions known as D&E procedures. In 2002 the Federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act made it a U.S. crime to let children die like this, and the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was passed outlawing the specific D&E procedures making them possible, even declaring this to be "Infanticide" in Section 2, 14(G) and 14(O).[1] The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act had 70% public approval by the time of its passage[2] (a 2011 poll shows 64% support[3]) yet the Born Alive Infant Protection Act was far more popular, to the extent that in Obama's own words, it was "the federal bill that everybody supported."[4]

The Born Alive Infant Protection Act passed the U.S. Senate unanimously. Even normally Pro-Choice Democrats like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, and Barbara Boxer voted for the Born Alive Infant Protection Act[5] - even as Obama was voting down an identical bill in the Illinois State Senate. Obama has attempted since 2004 to explain away his votes, variously calling critics liars, saying the bills he voted against were dissimilar from the federal bill everybody supported (a lie that was debunked in 2008 by a CNN expose resulting in an Obama campaign admission that he misspoke), and saying the Illinois law was already sufficient to protect newborn infants. Obama's "Fight the Smears" site striving to deny his votes on the bills has since vanished from the web or it would be quoted.

The issue featured prominently in the 2008 presidential election as well, with both Sarah Palin and John McCain raising the issue, and major press coverage by CNN and other news media reporting on the controversy. Obama ultimately voted 'Present' or 'No' on 7 of the 'Born Alive' bills:

  • SB 1082 (2003 Born Alive Infant Defined Act)[6]
  • SB 1661 (2002 Induced Birth Infant Liability Act)[7][8]
  • SB 1662 (2002)[9]
  • SB 1093 (2001 Born Alive Infants Protection Act)[10][11]
  • SB 1094 (2001 Induced Birth Infant Liability Act)[12][13]
  • SB 1095 (2001 Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act)[14][15][16][17]
  • SB 230 (1997 Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act)[18][19]

1996-2003 Illinois Senate Transcripts

The following are quotes from Barack Obama himself on the controversial bills at the time, that would later cause such controversy, and which have been repeatedly quoted from in the press:

Transcript, Born Alive Infants Protection Act

March 30, 2001. Pages 84–88 of Illinois Senate Transcript at ILGA.gov.[10] [11]

"Senator O'Malley, the testimony during the committee indicated that one of the key concerns was - is that there was a method of abortion, an induced abortion, where the -- the fetus or child, as - as some might describe it, is still temporarily alive outside the womb. And one of the concerns that came out in the testimony was the fact that they were not being properly cared for during that brief period of time that they were still living. Is that correct?"

"Well, it turned out - that during the testimony a number of members who are typically in favor of a woman's right to choose an abortion were actually sympathetic to some of the concerns that your - you raised and that were raised by witnesses in the testimony. And there was some suggestion that we might be able to craft something that might meet constitutional muster with respect to caring for fetuses or children who were delivered in this fashion. Unfortunately, this bill goes a little bit further, and so I just want to suggest, not that I think it'll make too much difference with respect to how we vote, that this is probably not going to survive constitutional scrutiny."

"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, then this would be an antiabortion statute. For that purpose, I think it would probably be found unconstitutional. The second reason that it would probably befound unconstitutional is that this essentially says that a doctor is required to provide treatment to a previable child, or fetus, however way you want to describe it. Viability is the line that has been drawn by the Supreme Court to determine whether or not an abortion can or cannot take place. And if we're placing a burden on the doctor that says you have to keep alive even a previable child as long as possible and give them as much medical attention as - as is necessary to try to keep that child alive, then we're probably crossing the line in terms of unconstitutionality. Now, as I said before, this probably won't make any difference. I recall the last time we had a debate about abortion, we passed a bill out of here. I suggested to Members of the Judiciary Committee that it was unconstitutional and it would be struck down by the Seventh Circuit. It was. I recognize this is a passionate issue, and so I - I won't, as I said, belabor the point. I think it's important to recognize though that this is an area where potentially we might have compromised and - and arrived at a bill that dealt with the narrow concerns about how a - a previable fetus or child was treated by a hospital. We decided not to do that. We're going much further than that in this bill. As a consequence, I think that we will probably end up in court once again, as we often do, on this issue. And as a consequence, I'll be voting Present."

Transcript, Induced Birth Infants Liability Act

April 4, 2002. Pages 29–35 of Illinois Senate Transcript at ILGA.gov.[7]

"Thank you Mr. President. Will the sponsor yield for a question?"

"Yes, just along the same lines. Obviously this is an issue that we've debated extensively both in committee and on the Floor, so I -- you know, I don't want to belabor it. But I did want to point out, as I understood it, during the course of the discussion in committee, one of the things that we were concerned about, or at least I expressed some concern about, was what impact this would have with respect to the relationship between the doctor and the patient and what liabilities the doctor might have in this situation. So, can you just describe for me, under this legislation, what's going to be required for a doctor to meet the requirements that you've set forth?"

"So -- and again, I'm -- I'm not going to prolong this, but I just want to be clear because I think this was the source of the objections of the Medical Society. As I understand it, this puts the burden on the attending physician who has determined, since they were performing this procedure, that, in fact, this is a nonviable fetus; that if that fetus, or child - however way you want to describe it - is now outside the mother's womb and the doctor continues to think that its nonviable but there's, lets say, movement or some indication that, in fact, they're not just out limp and dead, they would then have to call a second physician to monitor and check off and make sure that this is not a live child that could be saved. Is that correct?"

"Let me just go to the bill, very quickly. Essentially, I think, as -- as this emerged during debate and during committee, the only plausible rationale, to my mind, for this legislation would be if you had a suspicion that a doctor, the attending physician, who has made an assessment that this is a nonviable fetus and that, lets say for the purposes of the mother's health, is being -- that -- that labor is being induced, that that physician (a) is going to make the wrong assessment and (b) if the physician discovered, after the labor had been induced, that, in fact, he made an error, or she made an error, and, in fact, that that physician, of his own accord or her own accord, would not try to exercise the sort of medical measures and practices that would be involved in saving that child. Now, if -- if you think that there are possibilities that doctors would not do that, then maybe this bill makes sense, but I -- I suspect and my impression is, is that the Medical Society suspects as well that doctors feel that they would be under that obligation, that they would already be making these determinations and that, essentially, adding 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. Now, if that's the case - and --and I know that some of us feel very strongly one way or another on that issue - that's fine, but I think it's important to understand that this issue ultimately is about abortion and not live births. Because if these children are being born alive, I, at least, have confidence that a doctor who is in that room is going to make sure that they're looked after. Thank you, Mr. President."

2004 General Election

After a number of candidates including former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka declined to run,[20] the Illinois GOP finally settled on fiery Alan Keyes, a former Ambassador to the Economic and Social Counsel of the United Nations,[21] with less than three months left before the November 2004 election.[22] His sudden entrance into the state for the election was initially attacked in the press as "carpetbagging".[23][24][25] Keyes repeatedly claimed his primary motivation for entering a race he had seemingly no chance of winning was his disgust at Obama's votes on the popular Born Alive bills. Keyes, from his first day of arriving in Illinois (August 9, 2004),[26] accused Obama of having voted against bills mandating medical care for newborn children, and supporting "infanticide" (the term twice used in the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act[1]) where hospitals left newborn infants to die like garbage.[27][28]

"I'll also tell you quite clearly and unequivocally that if those [Obama's liberal votes] had been the only points of difference between us, it would not have been me! What finally caught my eye, however... was when I learned that in April 2002, Obama had cast a vote that would continue to allow LIVE BIRTH ABORTIONS in the state of Illinois. It's very important that you understand what I'm talking about. We are talking about a situation in which, in the course of an abortion procedure, a child has been born alive -- she is out of the womb, breathing and living on her own – and Obama cast a vote AGAINST the idea that that child's life should be spared. Obama's position and his vote would make it legal to condemn that innocent babe to death!"

-Alan Keyes, August 18, 2004[29]

Obama in a debate on October 13, 2004, defended himself against Keyes' accusations of infanticide, retorting,
"If Ambassador Keyes had called me up, he could have saved himself a trip, because existing Illinois law mandates that any infant that has a chance of survival is provided life-saving treatment."[30]
Keyes maintained that Jesus Christ would not vote for Obama because of his voting record on the subject,[31] a claim that Jill Stanek would repeat years later.[32]

2008 Primary Election

In 2007-08, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton competed for the Democratic nomination. Hillary Clinton cleverly resurrected the "Born Alive" controversy surrounding Obama that had lain largely dormant since 2004 (notwithstanding the continuing mentions by Jill Stanek), by accusing Obama of not being pro-choice for voting "Present" on a number of abortion-related bills - including the Born Alive ones,[33][34] and cowardly ducking the votes.[35] This led to criticism of Obama by two pro-choice organizations, Emily's List, and the National Organization for Women.[36][37][38] The Washington Post Fact-Checker noted that Obama had actually used the 'Present' voting strategy against 7 different abortion related bills, two versions of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act (SB 230 and HB 382), two versions of the parental notice of abortion act (HB 1900 and SB 562), and three of the "Born Alive" bills (SB 1093, 1094, and 1095).[39] However, Pam Sutherland, the long-time head of Illinois Planned Parenthood, came to Obama's aid, criticizing Clinton for making the attack, and stating repeatedly that Obama's present votes were part of a broader strategy used by Planned Parenthood to keep Illinois voters from knowing their state senators were voting against the controversial and popular bills.[40][41]

"He came to me and said: ‘My members are being attacked. We need to figure out a way to protect members and to protect women. A ‘present’ vote was hard to pigeonhole which is exactly what Obama wanted. What it did was give cover to moderate Democrats who wanted to vote with us but were afraid to do so" because of how their votes would be used against them electorally. A ‘present’ vote would protect them. Your senator voted ‘present.’ Most of the electorate is not going to know what that means."

-Pam Sutherland, President/CEO of Illinois Planned Parenthood Council, 1980-2012[42]

This was also reiterated by Steve Trombley, the President of Planned Parenthood Chicago, that it was a strategy to deceive Illinoisans about the controversial bills.[43] Sutherland further praised Obama for the strategy, saying it made him a "leader".[44] It is probable that Clinton actually was being sarcastic when she made the remarks about Obama not being as pro-choice as her for voting 'Present' instead of 'No' on the Born Alive bills, since as Jill Stanek noted, "Clinton is being so audacious trying to claim that Obama is less pro-choice when on the very same bill she voted pro-life. It's just astounding." By forcing him to defend his pro-choice record, she made it evident how extreme he was in voting against the Born Alive bills she and the entire U.S. Senate had voted unanimously to approve.[33]

2008 General Election

During the 2008 General Election, Obama's voting record on the "Born Alive" bills came once more to the forefront. On June 30, 2008, CNN gave voice to the growing controversy, and revealed the defense Obama had been using since 2004-2008, that the Illinois bills he'd voted against were different from the federal bill, was false, since he'd brought up for a vote a bill word for word identical to the federal bill in the Health and Human Services Committee he chaired, and voted against it, defeating it.

Carol Costello, CNN: "In 2001, when Obama was an Illinois state senator, he and his colleagues considered a bill called the 'Born Alive Infant Protection Act', which 'Provided that a live child born as a result of an induced abortion shall be fully recognized as a human person and accorded immediate protection under the law.' The bill caused an uproar in Illinois, fueled by dramatic testimony by a former Chicago nurse, Jill Stanek... And Senator Obama says if he had been in the U.S. Senate in 2002 he too would have voted in favor of the Born Alive Infants Protection Act because unlike the Illinois bill, it included language protecting Roe v. Wade."

Bill Bennett, CNN: "The more you look into this, the worse it is for Barack Obama to deny it, 'cause if you look into the record, and Carol did a good job, you will see the 2003 bill had exactly the same language as the federal bill, and Barack Obama voted against it. This was not about Roe v. Wade, this was not about abortion, this was about protecting these babies when they are alive, after 7 months, 5 months, 6 months; whether it be an abortion, or through birth, or through any other means. And Barack Obama, what he is saying is just false, check the record. The more you dig into it, the worse it looks. He should just say - whatever he wants; something else. I was naive, I didn't realize how close it was to the federal act; he cannot say it was different from the federal act, it was the same."[45]

In July, the National Right to Life Committee began calling attention to Bill Bennett's claim, that Obama had voted against a bill identical to the federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act, and accusing the Obama campaign of a "cover-up".[46]

On August 16, 2008, CNN's David Brody confronted Obama about the issue during the Rick Warren-hosted McCain/Obama debates, with Obama providing a number of different defenses, including a new one that laws already existed in Illinois to protect newborn children.

Barack Obama: ...they have not been telling the truth. I hate to say that people are lying, but here's a situation where folks are lying. I have said repeatedly that I would have been completely and fully in support of the federal bill that everybody supported, which was to say that you should provide assistance to any infant that was born, even if it was as a consequence of an induced abortion. That was not the bill that was presented at the state level. What that bill also was doing was trying to undermine Roe v. Wade. By the way, we also had a law already in place in Illinois that ensured life-saving treatment was given to infants. So for people to suggest that I and the Illinois Medical Society, so Illinois' doctors, were somehow in favor of withholding life-saving support from an infant born alive - is ridiculous.[4]
When the NRLC publicly challenged the Obama camp on August 17, to declare the new documents forgeries, or admit he misrepresented his voting record and apologize for calling critics liars, the Obama campaign admitted the same day he "misspoke" and had voted against an identical bill to the "federal bill that everybody supported" but focused on Obama's new claim, that Illinois law was already sufficient to protect newborn children. The NRLC promptly declared "Senator Barack Obama's four-year effort to cover up his full role in killing legislation to protect born-alive survivors of abortions continues to unravel."[47]
Indeed, Mr. Obama appeared to misstate his position in the CBN interview on Saturday when he said the federal version he supported "was not the bill that was presented at the state level." His campaign yesterday acknowledged that he had voted against an identical bill in the state Senate, and a spokesman, Hari Sevugan, said the senator and other lawmakers had concerns that even as worded, the legislation could have undermined existing Illinois abortion law. Those concerns did not exist for the federal bill, because there is no federal abortion law.[48]


The issue resurfaced in February 2012 when Newt Gingrich said, "If we’re going to have a debate about who the extremist is on these issues, it is President Obama, who as a state senator voted to protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortion".[49] Rick Santorum likewise repeated this, saying, "any child born prematurely, according to the president, in his own words, can be killed."[50] Newt Gingrich later accused the national media of not covering Obama's controversial history on the Born Alive bills.[51]


  1. 1.0 1.1 United States Congress (2003, March 13). "S.3: Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003."
  2. Ray, J. (2003, July 8). "Gallup Brain: Opinions on Partial-Birth Abortions." Gallup.
  3. Gallup. "Abortion." pg. 1.
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    David Brody (August 16, 2008). "Obama Gets Heated on Born Alive Infant Protection Act." CBN News. The Brody File.
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  11. 11.0 11.1 Status of SB 1093. 92nd General Assembly. ILGA.gov.
  12. Illinois General Assembly. Status of SB 1094. 92nd General Assembly.
  13. (2001, March 30). 92nd General Assembly Regular Session Senate Transcript. State of Illinois. pp. 88-89.
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  15. Illinois General Assembly. Status of SB 1095. 92nd General Assembly.
  16. State of Illinois. 92nd General Assembly Senate Vote: Senate Bill No. 1095.
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  18. Illinois General Assembly. 90th General Assembly: Status of SB 0230.
  19. (1997, March 18). 90th General Assembly Regular Session Senate Transcript. State of Illinois. pp. 59-66.
  20. CNN (2004, August 9). "Keyes Challenges Obama for Illinois Senate Seat."
  21. Spivak, Todd (2008, February 28). "Barack Obama and Me." Houston Press.
  22. MSNBC (2008, February 20). "Obama Becomes Rising Star Among Democrats."
  23. Chicago Tribune. "The GOP's Rent-A-Senator."
  24. Washington Post (2004, August 9). "Mr. Keyes the Carpetbagger.
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  26. Associated Press (2004, August 9). "Keyes Assails Obama's Abortion Views."
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    Farley, R. (2012, February 23). "Did Elite Media Ignore Infanticide?" FactCheck.org.