Echoing a Bush campaign spokesman, FOX News general assignment correspondent Major Garrett suggested that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) had changed her position on abortion in a recent speech in order to pander to culturally conservative voters in advance of a 2008 presidential bid. The truth is that Clinton's speech was fully consistent with her previous statements and votes on the issue.
On the January 25 edition of FOX News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Garrett claimed that Clinton's January 24 speech to family planning advocates in Albany, New York, "appeared to soften her historically hard-line defense of current abortion law by praising the role that religious faith has played in promoting teen abstinence." But Garrett never explained how Clinton's praise for religion and teen abstinence indicates a shift away from her "hard-line" position against new restrictions on abortion.
Here's what Clinton actually said about abstinence in her speech:
Research shows that the primary reason that teenage girls abstain is because of their religious and moral values. We should embrace this -- and support programs that reinforce the idea that abstinence at a young age is not just the smart thing to do, it is the right thing to do. But we should also recognize what works and what doesn't work, and to be fair, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs. I don't think this debate should be about ideology, it should be about facts and evidence.
Moreover, far from backing away from her defense of abortion rights, Clinton reiterated her support for keeping abortion legal. In praising the Putting Prevention First Act (H.R. 4192), Clinton said: "It provides a roadmap to the destination of fewer unwanted pregnancies -- to the day when abortion is truly safe, legal, and rare." Clinton also warned against government interference in a woman's right to an abortion:
When I spoke to the conference on women in Beijing in 1995 -- ten years ago this year -- I spoke out against any government interfering with the reproductive rights and decisions of women and families. So we have a lot of experience from around the world that is a cautionary tale about what happens when a government substitutes its opinion for an individual's. There is no reason why government cannot do more to educate and inform and provide assistance so that the choice guaranteed under our constitution either does not ever have to be exercised or only in very rare circumstances.
In contrast to Garrett's claim that Clinton had changed her stance, a January 25 New York Times article pointed out that while Clinton "appeared to be reaching out beyond traditional core Democrats," she did not actually change her longstanding abortion-related policy positions:
Mrs. Clinton, widely seen as a possible candidate for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2008, appeared to be reaching out beyond traditional core Democrats who support abortion rights. She did so not by changing her political stands, but by underscoring her views in preventing unplanned pregnancies, promoting adoption, recognizing the influence of religion in abstinence and championing what she has long called "teenage celibacy."
Indeed, in her 1996 book It Takes a Village, Clinton wrote, "I think we need to do everything in our power to discourage sexual activity and encourage abstinence," as Media Matters for America President and CEO David Brock pointed out (QuickTime / Windows Media) on the January 25 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country.
Garrett also played a clip of former Bush-Cheney '04 spokesman Terry Holt claiming that Clinton's speech was the result of "a cold, hard calculation about politics in this country." Though Garrett is ostensibly a hard news reporter, his own analysis of the speech closely echoed Holt's:
GARRETT: Clinton leads all potential Democrats in the 2008 presidential derby. Republicans say she's already positioning herself for a run.
HOLT [clip]: Senator Clinton is nothing if not a smart politician. And as a leader of her party, she's making a cold, hard calculation about politics in this country.
GARRETT: Based on her voting record, Clinton remains a dedicated liberal on tax cuts and health care policy, just to name two. But Democrats say Clinton knows the value of splitting the difference on divisive cultural issues, being the nation probably has not seen or heard the last of Clinton-style triangulation.