Last week, I wrote that Barack Obama, as an Illinois state senator, opposed a bill to define as a "person" a fully born baby who survived an abortion. Obama opposed this bill, I wrote, even after an amendment was offered to it that mirrored language included in a virtually identical federal bill that won a 98 to zero vote in the U.S. Senate after Sen. Barbara Boxer said the language in question protected Roe v. Wade.
Obama, I reported, killed the Illinois bill by holding it in a committee he chaired, never calling a vote so it could be sent to the full Senate. This, I have since been informed, was incorrect.
Although the Illinois General Assembly’s online bill tracking system indicates the bill was "held" in Obama’s Health and Human Services Committee in 2003, former Sen. Rick Winkel, who sponsored it, and Sen. Dale Righter, then the committee’s ranking Republican, both tell me that written records kept by Illinois Senate Republicans indicate Obama did bring the bill up for a vote and then voted against it. The bill, as amended, lost that vote four to six. In 2001, Republican Sen. Rick Santorum offered the federal version of the Born Alive Infants bill as an amendment. Boxer gave a floor speech explaining why it did not threaten Roe and why Democrats would vote for it.
"(H)is amendment certainly does not attack Roe in any way," said Boxer. "His amendment makes it very clear that nothing in this amendment gives any rights that are not yet afforded to a fetus. Therefore, I, as being a pro-choice senator on this side, representing my colleagues here, have no problem whatsoever with this amendment."
When Obama was in the Illinois Senate, the Born Alive Infants bill came up three successive years.
In 2001, three bills were proposed to help babies who survived induced labor abortions. One, like the federal Born Alive Infants bill, simply said a living "homo sapiens" wholly emerged from his mother should be treated as a "’person,’ ‘human being,’ ‘child’ and ‘individual.’"
On all three bills, Obama voted "present," effectively the same as a "no." Defining "a pre-viable fetus" that survived an abortion as a "person" or "child," he argued, "would essentially bar abortions, because the Equal Protection Clause does not allow somebody to kill a child, and if this is a child, then this would be an anti-abortion statute."
In 2002, Obama voted "no" on the bill.
When Democrats took control of the Illinois Senate in 2003, Obama became chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee. The Born Alive Infants bill and an amendment to add exactly the language Boxer said protected Roe in the federal bill (which President Bush had signed into law in 2002) was referred to this committee.
According to the records made by committee Republicans, the amendment to include in the Illinois bill the language Boxer said protected Roe was approved by a 10 to zero vote of the committee. (This vote, Republicans say, was a common procedural courtesy extended to the sponsoring senator.) The bill as amended was then put to a committee vote. It lost four to six, with Obama voting "no."
"I just read a copy of the Illinois Senate Republican Staff analysis on SB 1082 (93rd General Assembly), and, contrary to the bill status report on the Illinois General Assembly Website, it shows the bill — as amended — was in fact called for a vote in committee on a motion to recommend the bill for passage to the whole Senate," former Sen. Winkel, now an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois College of Law, wrote me in an email. "That motion failed 4-6-0 along party lines, and the chairman, then state Sen. Barack Obama, voted no. The result is that the bill died in the committee."
Righter backed up Winkel’s explanation of the Republican records. "If I want to see a vote history in committee on a certain bill, I will go to our records first," Righter told me. "Now, another source of information is the online service that you checked, as well. The online service in this case is rather vague. It just says that the bill never made it out of committee. But I have full faith and confidence in what our files show, absolutely."
In his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign, Obama was challenged on his opposition to the Born Alive Infants bill during a debate with Alan Keyes. "At the federal, level there was a similar bill that passed because it had an amendment saying this does not encroach on Roe v. Wade," Obama said. "I would have voted for that bill."
This statement seems to contradict the record made by committee Republicans, attested to by Winkel and Righter, which says he directly voted against the bill that included the amendment with the Roe-protecting language from the federal bill. "The amendment made my bill the same as the federal legislation," Winkel told me.
Obama’s campaign press office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.