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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Culture Wars vs. Obama

Executive summary: What you need to know about the `born alive' issue

I understand that most of you don't have time to read my 4,000-word exegesis on the "born alive" issue from the other day. So I've boiled its essence into a 279-word summary to give you a basis on which to judge whether this bill has anything to do with "infanticide," as some claim:

Lawmakers who favor abortion rights as outlined in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade were wary of bills introduced earlier this decade on the federal and state level to confer certain rights upon any fetus that showed signs of life after having been expelled or extracted from the womb.

They feared that such laws were simply a back-door way for abortion foes, the main backers of such proposals, to restrict mid-term abortions allowed under Roe by creating complicating legal and practical obstacles to such procedures.

When pro abortion-rights lawmakers were satisfied that the "born alive" bills would not compromise abortion rights guaranteed under Roe, they voted overwhelmingly to approve the idea.

Illinois' liberal lawmakers needed more reassurance than federal lawmakers before agreeing to pass a "born alive" law. In part this was because abortion practice is regulated mainly by state laws, not federal laws, so seemingly benign changes in wording stand to have far-reaching consequences. And in part because the proposals were usually introduced with companion legislation that revealed a stronger intent behind the law by exposing doctors who perform mid-term abortions to additional legal risk.

So "born alive" bills failed repeatedly in Illinois from 2001 to 2004 in both chambers, with and without the involvement of then State Sen. Barack Obama.

In 2005, when additional language was added to a "born alive" bill in Illinois that explicitly spelled out that it would not impact abortion rights in any way, the law passed easily.

Proponents of the original bill, despite their constant reassurances that the proposals had nothing to do with abortion, nevertheless objected to the inclusion of the new language.

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