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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan October 9, 2008

Abortion survivor would have been protected under existing law

An ad from an independent advocacy group,, criticizes Barack Obama's votes on abortion when he was a state senator in Illinois.

The ad shows a young woman, Gianna Jessen, looking directly at the camera and saying the following: "Can you imagine not giving babies their basic human rights, no matter how they entered our world? My name's Gianna Jessen, born 31 years ago after a failed abortion. But if Barack Obama had his way, I wouldn't be here. Four times Barack Obama voted to oppose a law to protect babies left to die after failed abortions. Senator Obama, please support born alive infant protections. I'm living proof these babies have a right to live." View the ad here .

The ad refers to Illinois legislation put forward in 2001, 2002 and 2003 by opponents of abortion. The intent was to require doctors to provide immediate life-saving care to any infant that survived an intended abortion. The legislation, which included multiple bills, specified that an infant surviving a planned abortion is "born alive" and "shall be fully recognized as a human person and accorded immediate protection under the law."

The bills' supporters said it gave added emphasis to laws already on the books, deterring the death of abortion survivors from neglect. One of the bills' strongest supporters was a nurse, Jill Stanek, who said she had witnessed infants left to die in dirty utility rooms. Abortion-rights proponents, on the other hand, said the legislation was a back-door attempt to stop legal abortions.

Illinois already had a law on its books from 1975 that said if a doctor suspected an abortion was scheduled for a viable fetus — meaning able to survive outside of the mother's body — then the child must receive medical care if it survives the abortion. The new laws didn't distinguish between viable and nonviable, meaning that an infant of any age that survived an abortion should receive care.

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Obama did vote against the laws, by voting no or present on the bills. (In Illinois, a present vote has the same weight as a no vote.) But because of the older law, Jessen is wrong when she says "if Barack Obama had his way, I wouldn't be here." According to the medical records provided by the organization that produced the ad, Jessen was born at 29 weeks, which would have been a viable pregnancy and subject to the older Illinois law requiring that she receive medical care. So it's not correct to say that Obama opposed that.

Also, Jessen was born in California, not Illinois.

We know Jessen is speaking somewhat figuratively here, but the fact is that someone born under similar circumstances in Illinois would have been protected under the law. Obama has said he supported the existing law and felt it provided sufficient protection for abortion survivors like Jessen. We rule her statement False.

For more on the born alive controversy, please read our extended story here.

Our Sources

Illinois General Assembly, Regular Session Senate Transcript , March 30, 2001

Illinois General Assembly, Regular Session Senate Transcript , April 4, 2002

Illinois General Assembly, Born Alive Senate Bills , 2001

Illinois General Assembly, Born Alive Senate Bills , 2002

Illinois General Assembly, Born Alive Senate Bills , 2003

U.S. Government Printing Office (federal law), Born Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002

Thomas, Born Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002

Jill Stanek blog (Chicago anti-abortion activist)

Current Illinois state law regarding abortion

Illinois General Assembly, Born Alive Act , passed 2005

Barack Obama campaign Web site, federal versus state "Born Alive" factcheck , June 30, 2008

Barack Obama campaign Web site, Born Alive legislation factsheet , Aug. 19, 2008

Barack Obama campaign Web site, Reckless accusations of infanticide

Chicago Tribune, Obama's record on abortion hit , Aug. 20, 2002

Chicago Tribune, A big split over abortion, stem cells, Oct. 4, 2004, accessed via Nexis

National Right to Life Committee, White Paper on Barack Obama and born alive legislation , Aug. 28, 2008, Obama gets heated on born alive protection act, Aug. 16, 2008

The Associated Press, Obama comments on late term abortions , July 4, 2008, Born Alive Baloney , Sept. 24, 2008, Obama and "Infanticide," Aug. 25, 2008

This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Interview with John McCain, Nov. 19, 2006, accessed via Nexis

ABC News, Interview with Sarah Palin, Sept. 12, 2008, accessed via Nexis

NARAL Pro-Choice America, Barack Obama voting ratings

National Public Radio, Misperceptions about McCain's abortion stance , Feb. 2, 2008

NARAL Pro-Choice America, John McCain voting ratings

National Right to Life, Vote Scorecards

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Abortion survivor would have been protected under existing law

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