Obama Campaign Defends “Present” Abortion Votes

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In an unusual pre-emptive conference call with reporters the Obama campaign today defended his series of “present” votes on abortion measures in the Illinois State Senate.
The votes were actually part of a strategy developed by Planned Parenthood to stop Republican attacks on pro-choice candidates. “We had a very astute and devious Republican leader that we knew was using abortion votes as wedge issues, putting those votes into mailers to help defeat pro-choice Democrats,” Pam Sutherland, president and CEO of Illinois Planned Parenthood, told reporters on the call. “It was our strategy, Planned Parenthood’s, to decide that a “present” vote was the same thing as a “no” vote.”
Then-State Senator Obama “was always ready to vote “no” on these bills but he understood how it important it was to help his fellow colleagues,” Sutherland continued. Obama “was key to the strategy… not only did Democrats follow suit, so did many Republicans. The strategy actually worked… very few of those bills actually made it into law.”
Sutherland underlined that Planned Parenthood was not endorsing Obama or any other candidate but they felt it was important to defend his record since he was acting at their behest. Hillary Clinton’s campaign in New Hampshire on January 5th sent out a mailing criticizing Obama as “”unwilling to take a stand on choice” because he voted “present” on the GOP–sponsored measures.
When asked by a reporter if there are any new mailings or attacks that prompted the call, Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor replied: “We saw misinformation being spread to people in New Hampshire and Senator Obama feels that when we see misinformation being spread we should respond forcefully with the truth and that’s what we’re doing today.” Campaign sources said the call was pre-emptive because they were concerned about the possibility of further attacks on this issue.

As Karen notes in her post, the Clinton campaign responded with a call of their own in which they highlighted Obama’s trend of “present” votes, while acknowledging that it was part of a Planned Parenthood strategy.

“Pam Sutherland was not lying,” said Gaye Bruhn, who headed up Illinois NOW at the time of the votes. “We did differ on that strategy. We talked about it. We still differ on it. And she knew that we lobbied against it.”

Ann Lewis, a Clinton campaign senior advisor said the issue is not just the seven abortion votes, but many of Obama’s 129 “present” votes that were disappointing to women. “Presidents don’t get to vote present,” Lewis said. The campaign pointed to Obama’s “present” votes on a bill that would’ve allowed victims of sexual assault the right to petition to have their records sealed, a measure that would’ve tightened parental fitness requirements for adoption and a bill that would’ve increased penalties for using a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school.

“When we think about electing a president, as women we need to think of someone who will stand up for these issues regardless of what it does to his or her electabiltiy,” Bruhn said.

I’m waiting for a response from the Obama campaign on these other votes, though one political strategist did, rightly, point out that the accusations seem to have migrated from pro-choice to a whole host of women’s issues.