“My name is Gianna Jessen, born 31 years ago after a failed abortion. But if Barack Obama had his way, I wouldn’t be here." So goes the ad from a nonprofit 527 group called BornAliveTruth.org, which produced the 30-second spot (via PrezVid) amidst a swirl of confusion and controversy surrounding Barack Obama’s voting record on “born-alive” legislation before the Illinois State Senate.
The history of Obama’s actual stance, available via FactCheck.org, requires careful parsing. Essentially, Obama opposed “born-alive” bills at the state level in 2001, 2002, and 2003 that he says would have weakened Roe v. Wade. But he says he would have supported a federal version of the legislation signed by George W. Bush in 2002 because it contained protections for Roe v. Wade.
Jess Henig’s article for FactCheck notes inconsistencies in the reasoning behind Obama's votes: The Obama camp contended that there were differences in language between the state and federal versions of the bills, even after the 2003 state bill's language was revised so as to be identical to that of the federal one. The 2005 version of the state bill, which passed, included a protective clause stating that “Nothing in this Section shall be construed to affect existing federal or State law regarding abortion,” and Obama spokesperson Tommy Vietor says Obama would have voted for that bill, had he still been in state office at that point.
Henig goes on to suggest that Obama's stance on these bills may hinge on fine semantic distinctions:
The main bills under discussion, State Bill 1082 and the federal BAIPA [Born Alive Infant Protection Acts], 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.
While there may be discrepancies in the reasoning behind Obama's votes, his support of abortion rights has never been in question. “Obama's critics are free to speculate on his motives for voting against the bills, and postulate a lack of concern for babies’ welfare,” Henig concludes. “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.”
It’s a complex matter whose emotional pitch is only raised by the use of freighted terms like infanticide and born-alive. Such videos are especially prone to glossing over the political nuances of an issue, which means the facts of Obama’s actual position will most likely be lost in the din.