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ELECTION 2008 | McCain, Obama Discuss Abortion, Embryonic Stem Cell Research During Forum at Saddleback Church

ELECTION 2008 | McCain, Obama Discuss Abortion, Embryonic Stem Cell Research During Forum at Saddleback Church
[Aug. 18, 2008]

Presidential candidates Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Saturday at a forum moderated by the influential evangelical minister Rev. Rick Warren at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., discussed their positions on abortion rights and human embryonic stem cell research, the Wall Street Journal reports. During the forum, Obama defended his support of abortion rights while McCain emphasized his opposition to them. According to the Journal, both candidates said that they support embryonic stem cell research but that they hope research advances with other types of stem cells that would eliminate the need for the research (Chozick/Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 8/17).

During the forum, McCain, who has been urged by conservative Christians to speak more about his opposition to abortion rights, said, "I will be a pro-life president, and this presidency will have pro-life policies." The comments came in response to a recent interview in which McCain said he would be open to picking a vice presidential running mate who supports abortion rights, (Mehta/Reston, Los Angeles Times, 8/17).

Obama said, "I am pro-choice, I believe in Roe v. Wade, not because I'm pro-abortion but because ultimately I don't think women make these decisions casually" (Broder/Seelye, New York Times, 8/17). Obama said he is interested in reducing the number of abortions, which is a point he pushed in the Democratic Party's new platform (Wall Street Journal, 8/17). Obama added that he would support certain abortion restrictions in the later stages of pregnancy as long as exceptions are in place for cases in which the health of a woman is at risk. Obama also said the government should do more to prevent unintended pregnancies through assistance to low-income women and improved adoption services. Obama said he expects some abortion-rights opponents to consider his stance "inadequate" (Babington/Fouhy, AP/, 8/17).

Warren asked both candidates, "At what point does a baby get human rights?" Obama said, "I think that whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade" (Los Angeles Times, 8/17). McCain said rights are obtained at "at the moment of conception." According to the Washington Post, McCain's response drew loud applause from the crowd of more than 2,000 (Bacon/Murray, Washington Post, 8/17).

~ CNN video of the forum is available online.

~ A transcript of the forum also is available online.

~ NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday": The segment includes comments made by McCain and Obama during the forum and reaction from Saddleback members (Jaffe, "Weekend Edition Sunday," NPR, 8/17).

Los Angeles Times Examines Abortion Issues in Campaign

Centrist voters are a key focus of the presidential campaign, and both candidates have attempted to reach out to those who disagree with their positions on abortion rights, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to the Times, despite their efforts to "downplay" the issue, both McCain and Obama "almost certainly would steer the country in opposite directions" on abortion rights through their appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court, which might be one "conservative vote short of overturning Roe v. Wade."

The Times reports that McCain faces a "much tougher climate than Obama" because of McCain's "long-standing trouble inspiring enthusiasm among social conservatives." Obama, meanwhile has faced "no backlash" from the proposed party platform, and he has given another "nod" to abortion-rights opponents by giving Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.), who opposes abortion rights, a prime-time speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention in Denver later this month (Finnegan, Los Angeles Times, 8/18).

Antiabortion Group Opposed to Obama Files for Protection From PAC Laws

In related news, the group The Real Truth About Obama, which opposes Obama's position on abortion issues, has asked a federal court to rule that the group is not subject to federal election laws that regulate political action committees, the AP/ reports. U.S. District Judge James Spencer scheduled a Sept. 10 hearing to consider the motion.

An attorney for the group said that the organization fears prosecution for breaking laws that restrict fundraising and advertising by PACs if it establishes a Web site and runs television ads. The group said it is not such a committee because it does not call for Obama's defeat or election. The Obama campaign declined to comment on the group (AP/, 8/17).

Opinion Piece

Obama's position on abortion rights "remains his largest obstacle to evangelical support," and his response to the question of when human rights are obtained "bordered on a gaffe," Michael Gerson -- columnist for the Washington Post, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and President Bush's chief speechwriter from 2001 to June 2006 -- writes in an opinion piece.

According to Gerson, if Obama is "genuinely unsure about this matter, he (and the law) should err in favor of protecting innocent life." Furthermore, if Obama "believes that a baby in the womb lacks human rights, he should say so." Gerson adds, "For many evangelicals, the theoretical Obama -- the Obama of hope and unity -- is intriguing, even appealing. But this opinion is not likely to improve upon closer inspection of his policy views" (Gerson, Washington Post, 8/18).