In an article on "what you might not know about" Sen. Barack Obama, The Washington Post's John Solomon wrote that, as a state senator, Obama "declined to take a position" on parental notification legislation, "voting 'present' instead of 'yes' or 'no.' " Solomon continued: "But five years earlier, he had filled out an issues questionnaire ... opposing such notifications." But Obama's "present" votes were reportedly part of a strategy he had worked out with the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council, which opposed the measures.
In a December 14 Washington Post article headlined, "What You Might Not Know About Obama", staff writer John Solomon wrote that, in 2001, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), then an Illinois state senator, "declined to take a position on two pieces of legislation that would have required parental notification for minors who have an abortion, voting 'present' instead of 'yes' or 'no.' " Solomon continued: "But five years earlier, he had filled out an issues questionnaire for the influential Independent Voters of Illinois Independent Precinct Organization opposing such notifications. 'Do you support parent consent/notification for minors seeking abortion?' the survey asked. 'No,' he wrote." But, contrary to Solomon's suggestion, while Obama voted "present," he reportedly did not "decline" to take a position on the legislation -- rather, his "present" votes were part of a strategy he had worked out with the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council in an effort to defeat the bill, according to the Council's CEO, Pam Sutherland. As ABCNews.com reported on July 17, Obama voted "present" on the two parental notification bills in 2001 "with the explicit support of the president and CEO of Illinois Planned Parenthood Council." The Chicago Sun-Times further reported on December 4 that the "goal" of the strategy was "to entice moderate Republicans and Democrats to also vote present, helping to defeat the bills." The article quoted Sutherland saying of Obama, "The poor guy is getting all this heat for a strategy we, the pro-choice community, did."
As ABCNews.com's Political Radar blog noted on July 17, Obama cast his "present" votes on the parental notification bills with the support of Illinois Planned Parenthood:
When Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., voted "present," rather than "yes" or "no" on a handful of controversial abortion votes in the Illinois state senate, he did so with the explicit support of the president and CEO of Illinois Planned Parenthood Council.
"We at Planned Parenthood view those as leadership votes," Pam Sutherland, the president and CEO of the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council, told ABC News. "We worked with him specifically on his strategy. The Republicans were in control of the Illinois Senate at the time. They loved to hold votes on 'partial birth' and 'born alive'. They put these bills out all the time ... because they wanted to pigeonhole Democrats."
Speaking to ABC News as Obama was preparing to join Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and the wife of Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., in addressing Planned Parenthood's national conference in Washington, D.C., Sutherland said Obama approached her in the late 1990s and worked with her and others in crafting the strategy of voting "present." She remembers meeting with Obama outside of the Illinois Senate chambers on the Democratic side of the aisle. She and Obama finished their conversation in his office.
"He came to me and said: 'My members are being attacked. We need to figure out a way to protect members and to protect women,' " said Sutherland in recounting her conversation with Obama. "A 'present' vote was hard to pigeonhole which is exactly what Obama wanted."
"What it did," she continued, "was give cover to moderate Democrats who wanted to vote with us but were afraid to do so" because of how their votes would be used against them electorally. "A 'present' vote would protect them. Your senator voted 'present.' Most of the electorate is not going to know what that means."
While Sutherland was happy to give Obama latitude in voting "present," rather than "no," she was quick to note that "it's also not a 'yes' vote."
As reported by The Wall Street Journal, some of the specific abortion votes in question include two occasions in 1997 (HB 382 and SB 230) when he voted "present" on bills which would have prohibited a procedure referred to by its critics as "partial-birth abortion." In 2001, he voted "present" on two parental notification abortion bills (HB 1900 and SB 562), and he voted "present" on a series of bills (SB 1093, 1094, 1095) that sought to protect a child if he or she survived a failed abortion.
But while he competes for the Democratic presidential nomination, he can use his cooperation with Planned Parenthood in Illinois to help assure supporters of abortion rights across the country that he will not cross them.
"Obama made sure those bills got as few votes as possible for passage," said Sullivan [sic].
From the December 4 Sun-Times article:
On the abortion bills, legislators who supported women's rights to the procedure were encouraged to vote "present" on bills that would have required parental notice before minors could obtain abortions and that would have barred what abortion foes call "partial-birth" abortions, a leading abortion-rights advocate said. The goal was to entice moderate Republicans and Democrats to also vote present, helping to defeat the bills.
"The poor guy is getting all this heat for a strategy we, the pro-choice community, did," said Pam Sutherland, president and CEO of the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council.
Solomon's article was one of several in the Post's December 14 profile of Obama. The Post has profiled several of the leading Democratic and Republican presidential candidates as part of series called "The Frontrunners".
SURE, YOU KNOW THAT BARACK OBAMA IS A U.S. SENATOR FROM ILLINOIS,
BUT YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ...
1. In 2001 when he was an Illinois state senator, Obama declined to take a position on two pieces of legislation that would have required parental notification for minors who have an abortion, voting "present" instead of "yes" or "no." But five years earlier, he had filled out an issues questionnaire for the influential Independent Voters of Illinois Independent Precinct Organization opposing such notifications. "Do you support parent consent/notification for minors seeking abortion?" the survey asked. "No," he wrote. Obama also answered that he supported Medicaid funding and state worker insurance coverage for abortion and that he didn't support "any other" restrictions on the procedure.
2. As a state legislator, Obama, an avid poker player, was a regular in low-stakes games of draw or stud poker that brought Republicans and Democrats together during long legislative sessions in Springfield, the Illinois capital. After he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, his legislative colleagues took him to the poker table and reportedly cleaned out his wallet in one last bare-knuckles round. "We brought him down to earth real quick," state Sen. Terry Link recently told the Associated Press.
3. Much has been made about Obama's ability to energize his supporters via the Internet and to raise large amounts of money through small donations on his Web site. Less known is the fact that Obama wants to create a powerful executive branch position that would harness the Internet for government. In a recent speech to Google executives, he proposed the new position of federal chief technology officer, whose wide-ranging job would include overseeing the security of government networks and expanding the amount of data, information and products available to average citizens via the Web.