For my entire adult life I have worked to advance the lives of women in the U.S. and abroad. From 1975 to 1982, I was the national Executive Director of NARAL when NARAL became the political arm of the pro-choice movement. It is gratifying that all Democratic candidates for president have 100% pro-choice voting records. Yet, it saddens me greatly to see Barack Obama's flawless voting record distorted.
A century ago, women fought hard for the right to vote. For decades, women have been fighting for the right to make reproductive choices, and for other important milestones in the battle for equality. What women do not need now is a divisive fight within the Democratic Party over which candidate is better on women's issues such as choice. The leading Democrat candidates all have 100% pro-choice voting records. The issue is not how they vote in Congress or how they will support reproductive choices as president. Instead, the issue is how are they using abortion rights in the presidential campaign, and what kind of leadership they will demonstrate once in office.
In Iowa and New Hampshire the Clinton campaign asserted that Obama's record on reproductive rights is not as strong as Senator Clinton's. It began with a blast from Ellen Malcolm, president of EMILY's List, which has effectively supported pro-choice women candidates in the past, but bungled this issue with an unfair attack on Obama's record. Pointing to votes that Barack Obama cast on abortion-related bills while a member of the Illinois Senate, the Clinton campaign claimed that Obama lacked leadership and has a less than perfect record on reproductive justice.
What Malcolm failed to mention was that Obama cast these votes as part of a strategy employed by pro-choice leaders in Illinois. Organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL have made it clear to any reporter who asks that Obama's present votes were part of a legislative strategy that they designed specifically to protect abortion rights. Further, Lorna Brett who was the President of Chicago NOW at the time of the votes has recently withdrawn her support for Senator Clinton and has become a supporter of Obama's campaign saying, "Barack's leadership on this issue went above and beyond the call of duty, and for anyone to intentionally mislead voters about that fact in the days before an election is simply sad. I am disgusted that this tactic is being used against a good man like Senator Obama." The Obama campaign also released excerpts of letter that Malcolm sent to Obama in 2006 thanking him for speaking at an EMILY's List event and complimenting him on how he energized their members.
There are two things are at issue here: substance and politics. On the substance, the record is clear. Barack Obama is 100% pro-choice -- always has been, always will be. That's why he made sure that FDA-approved contraceptives were covered by insurance plans for women in Illinois as a State Senator. That's why Obama spoke out against South Dakota's attempt to outlaw all abortions. And that's why Obama has worked so hard to make sure that low-income and college women can access affordable birth.
In terms of politics, the truth is that the Clinton campaign took a gamble that may be having unintended consequences. It has caused division and opened debate within the pro-choice movement, which has enough on its hands protecting reproductive justice against those who would return us to the days when abortion was not legally available. And, most disturbingly, these attacks on a legislative strategy created by choice leaders may threaten the ability to implement such strategies in the future. If pro-choice legislators are going to be attacked by Democrats, what incentive do they have to carry out voting strategies crafted by choice leaders?
As the pro-choice movement celebrates the 35th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, let's not argue over choice. Finding a Democratic candidate on the basis of choice is easy -- they are all good. Choosing a leader who will deal honestly and fairly with the American public is the real electoral test and the key factor that may turn off or turn on voters. On that score, the winner is Obama -- by a long shot.
Senior Advisor, Obama for America
Former Executive Director, NARAL