Is Barack Obama a pure supporter of abortion rights? Hillary Clinton and her supporters criticize him for opposing a bill by voting "present" instead of "no." Obama's defenders say the votes were a strategy to wrest a wedge issue away from Republicans.
As the Democratic race has tightened, the Hillary Clinton campaign has portrayed Sen. Barack Obama as inconsistent on abortion rights.
"In the Illinois state Senate, on issue after issue, my opponent voted ‘present,’ instead of yes or no. Seven of those votes were on a women’s right to choose," Sen. Clinton said in a December 2007 speech in Iowa. In the days leading up to Super Tuesday on Feb. 5, 2008, several other groups repeated the charge against Obama via e-mails.
The facts here are not in dispute. Obama did vote present on seven bills that attempted to restrict abortion. His defenders argue that it was a tactic to disrupt legislation that would be used against Democrats in swing districts.
It's worth pausing here to explain what the "present" vote means. The Illinois Legislature allows members to vote "yes," "no" or "present." Bills need "yes" votes to pass, so a vote of "present" counts the same as a "no." Thus, Obama's "present" votes on bills seeking to restrict abortion counted the same as if he had voted "no." All of the bills passed in the Senate by sizable margins.Pam Sutherland, president and CEO of the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council, said Obama was helping advance a prochoice agenda by voting present.
"He always was going to vote 'no' on these bills. We needed to keep some of our moderate Democrats from voting yes, which is something you never want to happen," Sutherland said. By having a well-known supporter of abortion rights also vote present, it gave other Democrats cover, she said.
Added 2/15/08 after reading discussion on Daily Kos: