Palin and Christian Right on Abortion Warpath

Although the issue of abortion has not come up in either of the US presidential or vice presidential debates, it is very much in play on the campaign trail, especially in a number of battleground states.

Often, while the term itself isn’t used, it is clearly the subtext when the question of appointments to the US Supreme Court is discussed or the phrase “judicial activism” — meaning politicized legal decisions — is used.

South Dakota, Colorado and California all have abortion-related initiatives on their November ballots, initiatives that are aimed at ending or limiting abortion rights.

Not being quizzed on reproductive rights during the debates failed to prevent Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Sen. John’s McCain Republican Party running mate, from raising the issue herself. At a recent rally and during a radio interview, Palin accused Obama of supporting infanticide.

“As a state senator, Barack Obama wouldn’t even stand up for the rights of infants born alive during an abortion,” Palin said during a Johnstown, Pennsylvania rally. “These infants, often babies with special needs, are simply left to die.”

“Without any clear context,” Time magazine reported, “Palin’s statements seemed to suggest that Obama supported a form of infanticide.”

Palin, who opposes abortion in all cases, including rape and incest, said , “A vote for Barack Obama is a vote for activist courts that will continue to smother the open and democratic debate we need on this issue, at both the state and federal level. A vote for Barack Obama would give the ultimate power over the issue of life to a politician who has never once done anything to protect the unborn.”

During an appearance on the ultra-conservative Laura Ingraham Show, Palin said Obama had voted against providing medical care to babies who were alive after attempted abortions. “It’s very appalling,” Palin said. “If more Americans could understand how absolutely extreme that position is, there would be a heck of a lot more outrage than we have already seen.”

Emily Douglas, an editor for RH Reality Check, a daily online publication covering global reproductive and sexual health news and information, told this writer by e-mail that, “Recently, the McCain-Palin campaign has tamped down on attacks on Obama’s alleged connection to [former] radical Bill Ayers — only to ramp up attacks that Obama’s position on abortion is ‘radical’.”

“Clearly, McCain and Palin are still trying to portray Obama as an extremist, when in fact his pro-prevention policies on abortion have attracted numerous self-described ‘pro-life'” voters, and in an election in which voters rank the candidate’s ability to deal with the economy far above his position on abortion,” she noted.

Will the issue that thus far has not been formally discussed be raised at Wednesday night’s final presidential debate? The Family Research Council’s (FRC) Tony Perkins certainly hopes so.

In an FRC Action Alert issued on Monday, Perkins, who heads the Washington-based conservative Christian lobby group, urged supporters to petition CBS’s Bob Schieffer, the moderator of the third presidential debate, to ask the candidates if they “agree or disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision allowing the government to ban abortions that kill a partially born baby?” and if they’ve “ever supported or opposed any law designed to protect the lives of babies that have survived an attempted abortion?”

Perkins did not suggest that the candidates be asked whether they favor overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in most cases.

Sen. John McCain opposes abortion rights and has voted for abortion restrictions permissible under Roe v. Wade. He has, since early on in the campaign, said that he would seek to overturn that guarantee of abortion rights.

Sen. Obama has consistently supported abortion rights. Both candidates are opposed to a constitutional amendment to ban abortion.

A host of anti-abortion organizations have unleashed a series of radio and television ads in swing states attacking Obama on the issue. BornAliveTruth.org, an anti-abortion non-profit headed by Jill Stanek, has rolled out television advertisements explicitly accusing Obama of “supporting infanticide”.

The BornAliveTruth ad is narrated by Gianna Jesson, who is identified as an “abortion survivor.” In the ad, Jesson states that “if Barack Obama had his way, I wouldn’t be here.” The ad focuses on Obama’s opposition to the “Born Alive Infant Protection Act.”

Douglas said that the ad which “suggests that Obama failed to support the highest standard of care for newborns, is a mistruth. Existing law in Illinois already protected infants, and the ‘Born Alive’ bills were bundled with other pieces of legislation that would have interfered with the state abortion law and increased physician liability.”

Earlier this month, Douglas reported that the National Right to Life Committee was preparing a radio ad charging that because he voted against the Illinois Born Alive Infant Protection Act, Obama is “responsible for killing a bill to provide care and protection for babies who are born alive after abortions’ and that ‘he later misrepresented the bill’s content.”

In South Dakota, anti-abortion activists are going over ground that was plowed two years ago when voters easily defeated an initiative aimed at outlawing all abortions. However, this time around abortion opponents appeared to soften the language in the initiative, “include[ing] language purporting to make exceptions for incest, rape or the life and health of the mother,” a New York Times editorial pointed out.

“But no one should be fooled,” the paper said. “The exceptions were drafted to make it nearly impossible to get an abortion, even during the first trimester of pregnancy. The measure is clearly unconstitutional under existing Supreme Court rulings, and that’s just the point. The underlying agenda is to provide a vehicle for challenging Roe v. Wade . . .”

Amendment 48 in Colorado is a controversial ballot measure that would make the term “person” “include any human being from the moment of fertilization,” with all the constitutional rights that confers.

The initiative would in “effect bestow on fertilized eggs, prior to implantation in the womb and pregnancy, the same legal rights and protections that apply to people once they are born,” the New York Times editorial noted.

Interestingly, the Colorado measure is receiving little support from longtime abortion opponents, including the Catholic Church, and Gov. Bill Ritter, a self-described “pro-life” Democrat.

In California, the battle over abortion rights is centered on Proposition 4, an initiative that would force teenage girls to notify their parents if they were pregnant and wanted an abortion. This is the third time that a parental notification initiative has appeared on the state’s ballot, having twice been defeated.

“Far from protecting vulnerable teens, Proposition 4 would make it difficult for young women caught in abusive situations to obtain an abortion without notifying their parents, even in cases where the father or stepfather is responsible for the pregnancy,” the New York Times editorial pointed out. Recent polling has the anti-abortion side slightly ahead.

“The ballot initiatives in Colorado and South Dakota that would act as near-total abortion bans reveal the extremism of the anti-choice movement,” Douglas pointed out. “The Colorado ballot initiative is opposed even by its pro-life governor, while South Dakota’s ban would outlaw abortion with exceptions only for rape, incest, and the woman’s health — after an attempt in 2006 to outlaw abortion with no exceptions.”

“Voters can see that it’s the anti-choice movement, not Barack Obama, who is extreme on abortion,” she added.

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column, "Conservative Watch," documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right. Read other articles by Bill, or visit Bill's website.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Timber said on October 15th, 2008 at 12:55pm #

    Women who oppose choice for themselves when it comes to reproduction don’t know or care anything about “freedom.” For them, freedom must mean the ability to drive an SUV to the mall, and likewise, I think their children are just part of the script written for them by the church, their husbands, and the marketplace; they’re fashion accessories giving false meaning to an empty life. Being such an integral part of a codependent, rudderless existence for their mothers, babies naturally assume a central role and importance in the adopted political views of the mothers and fathers, and any suggestion that a fetus might be other than sacred becomes near-blasphemy.

    I can say, though, that there are plenty of conservative Democrats who are pro-life, anti-gay, anti-labor, and don’t give a rat’s ass about peace or the environment who will vote for Obama simply because he will be the first black American president. Their vote will NOT be evidence of America’s progressive spirit, just that even an evangelical or fundamentalist can sometimes set aside their religious hysteria long enough to engage in celebrity worship.

  2. Martha said on October 16th, 2008 at 7:49am #

    I’m really tired of the men who ‘remember’ abortion right before the election. I’m not talking about Timber who, as usual, had something worth sharing. I’m talking about this former Working For Change (Democratic front group) columnist (who may still write for them). This is my third election cycle for Berko. And I notice that abortion is a really important issue that he has to devote a column too right before each presidential election.
    Barack’s comments on abortion last night were appalling and he’s not going to ‘save’ reproductive rights. I didn’t buy that nonsense when Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan tried to sell it. I surely won’t buy it from Berko.
    Can we get some articles on Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney? They do have a debate this Sunday. Ralph’s calling out Wall Street this afternoon in New York.
    I know the Democrats are desperate and that they feel need to write columns like Berko, but I’d be more interested in reading about Chuck Baldwin (who I won’t vote for, but if you are, more power to you) than in another Democrat who thinks he or she can try to fool the DV readers and usually with scare tactics at that.

  3. Sam said on October 16th, 2008 at 12:27pm #

    I’m so tired of Dem apologists and excuse makers who drag out the FEAR card (every “election” cycle) by using the Supreme Court argument in this case as a top reason to vote for Bush-accomplice Walk on Water Obama and Biden.

    And when they do so I remind them that the Bush-accomplice DEMS gave us “Unitary Executive” Alito and Roberts. They were NOT required to vote for Alito and Roberts but the Dems said they wanted to keep their powder dry. So the Dems helped their close friends the Repugs seat Alito and Roberts on the Supreme Court. Despicable.

    Does anyone really think that Obama or McCain would nominate a “progressive” or “liberal” to the Supreme Court? Ha! And does anyone truly think that the rabid Bush-accomplice Senate would confirm a “progressive” or “liberal” to the Supreme Court? Ha!

    So one can flush that “what about the Supreme court?” argument down the toilet where it belong. It’s bullshit based on the Bush-accomplice Dems’ history and voting record since 2000.

    As Martha says, can we have articles about Nader/Gonzalez and McKinney/Clemente. I’m not criticizing DV…but on other so-called “progressive” sites I’m so sick of hearing about Palin and McCain. There’s been wall-to-wall saturation of these two pieces of trash for weeks and weeks now. It seems that most so-called “liberal” or “progressive” websites (I’m not necessarily referring to DV) and gas bag talk show hosts (from what I hear) have decided to saturate with Palin and McCain rather than talk much about their own pathetic candidates, Bush-accomplices Walk on Water Obama and Biden. Frankly, I’m sick of hearing about all 4 of them. Ugh.

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    Nader/Gonzalez 2008, if there is an “election”
    Cindy Sheehan to replace Bush-accomplice Pelosi
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