By James D. Agresti
February 24, 2012
CORRECTION: Just Facts has rewritten and retitled this article based upon a more thorough examination of the laws entailed. This revealed that Newt’s characterization of Obama’s votes is better described as “debatable” rather than “inaccurate.” Just Facts also found two more distortions in the AP’s coverage of this issue. The original article is shown below. The corrected article is here.
In a fact check of Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate on CNN, Associated Press reporters Calvin Woodward and Tom Raum take Newt Gingrich to task for stating:
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.
Citing the above statement in a list of what they call “head-scratching claims,” Woodward and Raum challenge it as follows:
THE FACTS: As an Illinois state senator, Obama voted against legislation promoted by anti-abortion activists that would have conferred protection to fetuses showing any signs of life after an abortion, even if doctors did not believe the fetus was viable. Obama pointed to an existing Illinois law requiring doctors to protect fetuses they believed were likely to survive after an abortion, and said he was concerned the proposed new law was so broad it could interfere with routine abortions. Obama said he would have supported federal legislation President George W. Bush signed in 2002 that would protect a viable fetus but reaffirmed a woman’s right to an abortion.
First, although Obama has said that he would have voted for the bill that Bush signed in 2002, Obama’s claim is at odds with the fact that he later voted to kill legislation with the same operative language. This vote took place on March 12, 2003 in an Illinois Senate committee that Obama was chairing. The bill was practically a word-for-word replica of the federal bill that Bush had signed, except that it applied on a state level.
Second, Woodward and Raum parrot Obama’s stance that existing Illinois law already offered protection for infants who were born alive after an abortion. However, the law did not require care for such infants if there wasn’t a “reasonable likelihood of sustained survival” in the judgment of the abortion provider. Consequently, aborted infants in Illinois sometimes lived for hours after birth while being abandoned to die without any care or comfort provided to them.
Finally, Woodward and Raum label live-born humans as “fetuses,” when in fact, the term “fetus” refers to “humans from nine weeks after fertilization until birth.” All of the legislation in question was applicable to humans who are “born alive” after “complete expulsion or extraction” from their mothers. Hence, these are not fetuses but newborns. Notice in the following statement about this issue how the Royal College of Obstetricians uses the word “fetus” before birth and the word “baby” afterwards:
If the fetus has had a lethal injection, it will normally die. However, there are some instances when there are signs of life at birth. All babies must be treated with dignity and respect. Palliative care should be provided till the baby dies where relevant.
Although journalism guidelines disparage the use of medical jargon in articles for the general public, journalists selectively employ and misuse such verbiage in their coverage of the abortion issue. It is not just the Associated Press that has misapplied the word “fetus” but also the New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Fox News, and CNN.
Regardless of the AP’s errors, Newt’s statement is inaccurate. Obama did not vote to “protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortion.” The preexisting law did not allow doctors to kill babies after they were born, but neither did it prohibit doctors from leaving nonviable newborns to suffer and die without care.
In sum, Obama voted against three bills stating that anyone “born alive at any stage of development” is considered a “person” under Illinois state law including those born as a result of “abortion.” He did this in the face of sworn testimony from Illinois nurses who witnessed aborted newborns living and being neglected for up to eight hours after birth. These are the straightforward and unadorned facts of the matter.