Melissa Ohden, of Sioux City, Iowa, may soon be a household name. She is the woman featured in a new ad from the Susan B. Anthony List who describes being born in 1977 after a failed saline abortion. Ohden outlines her biography in the ad and then describes how then-state Sen. Barack Obama voted four times against measures in the Illinois legislature that would have guaranteed her, after birth, the same treatment that any "wanted" premature baby would receive.
Supporters of President Obama claim that Obama was merely concerned about the potential impact of the law on Roe v. Wade. Specifically, that the law would threaten Roe by conferring legal rights on "pre-viable infants." Second, some of these critics argue that Ohden was ultimately treated and survived and today bears no obvious signs of the ordeal she suffered in the womb. Doesn't this show that the law was operating properly in 1977, and that Obama was right that no further protections were needed?
Obama's multiple speeches and votes against state versions of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act are a matter of record. He later claimed that he would have voted for the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which was enacted without a dissenting vote in Congress in 2002 -- but in 2008 the National Right to Life Committee released documents proving that in 2003 Obama had in fact voted against an exact copy of that federal law. FactCheck.org, PolitiFact and the Washington Post have all found that Obama misrepresented the content of the bill he voted against in 2003.
This is what Obama said in the Illinois Senate when arguing against a directly related bill: "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 it's nonviable but there's, let's 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."
So Obama's stated concern at the time was that the Illinois bill did not place sufficient trust in the "attending physician" -- in this case, a doctor performing an elective abortion near the time of viability -- to change course and go all-out to save a baby he had just tried to destroy. Advocates of born-alive measures are not such trusting souls. Misjudging either viability or the lethality of the abortion technique are the hazards of the mid-to-late-trimester abortion trade. Neither human life nor medicine tracks neatly with the artificial trimester scheme the U.S. Supreme Court invented in 1973.
Babies sometimes surprise in their fight for life. That is what Melissa Ohden did. She stewed for five days in a concentrated saline solution in her mother's womb. When she was finally delivered -- not in a neonatal intensive care unit where wanted preemies would be birthed, but in her mother's hospital room -- she showed signs of life with a faint cry. A caring nurse heard her and took action that ultimately led to her survival. Although she has never met this nurse, Melissa has said that when she reflects upon the person who saved her life that day, she is continually filled with gratitude and joy.
Some critics contend that Ohden can thus not claim to have been discarded. But the truth is that she was in the process of a de facto discard, subjected to a second-class and potentially injurious delivery in her mother's hospital room. If any hospital had a policy of segregating mothers by race when they were giving birth, putting one group in their high-tech delivery suite and the other in a patient's room, everyone would recognize and decry the discrimination and disparate treatment.
This is exactly what Ohden's experience connotes. The federal and Illinois BAIPAs insisted that babies who survive intentional abortions be afforded the same level of care as those wanted by their parents. Obama voted four times against this idea in Illinois. He favored the exclusive judgment of the abortionist over the judgment of medical personnel who had not participated in attempts to end a life.
The U.S. Congress unanimously approved BAIPA. Obama disagreed, and it still matters.
Chuck Donovan is President of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List.
Due to an editing error, this piece originally failed to note that Obama's speech, quoted at length above, was an argument against a slightly different version of the bill discussed. The piece has been updated to reflect this.