Interview with Douglas Johnson of the NRLC

Douglas Johnson, Legislative Director of the National Right to Life Committee, recently left a comment to one of my posts over at regarding Don’s recent campaigning for Barack Obama. I asked Mr. Johnson if I could follow up his post with a few follow-up questions and he graciously agreed. But before I get to the Q&A, 3 quick disclaimers:

1. While Mr. Johnson comes across as very pro-McCain and anti-Obama, that is not the point of this post. I’m not endorsing a candidate either way. My point in posting this is to make sure the facts are out there in regards to Obama’s and McCain’s voting records on abortion. (and if someone wants to refute any of Mr. Johnson’s claims in the interview PLEASE contact me.) The views that Mr. Johnson expresses in this interview are his own, NOT MINE. In posting this interview, I’m not saying I agree with his conclusions and ideas.

2. For some of you, abortion is not a big issue. For others it is the biggest. Again, in posting this interview I am not saying that abortion should be the biggest issue or only issue for you to consider in voting. I’m not even saying it needs to be in your top 10. Everyone needs to make that decision on their own, and I trust that you will.

3. This is a bit long. Sorry. But I didn’t want to edit it down or break it into parts.

Alright, on to the interview…


BA: Mr. Johnson, in the comments you left at you refer to Obama’s policies on abortion as “marketing strategies” that deflect attention away from his agenda that will increase abortions. I’m asking you to make a judgment call on this – and if you’re not comfortable doing so, just say so – but do you feel that Barack Obama is truly concerned with reducing the number of abortions that occur in this country?

DJ: No.  This “abortion reduction” talk is really a scam, cooked up among liberal think tanks and political consultants, and adopted as a marketing strategy — or as they say, “messaging” — for the general election only.  (During the pre-nomination season, the Obama campaign challenged any suggestion from the Clinton camp that Obama had anything less than an unblemished pro-abortion record.)

Based on Obama’s record and his commitments, he will push for a radical change in the status quo in the pro-abortion direction. To the extent he succeeds, it will drastically increase the number of abortions performed in the U.S.

During his entire political career, in the Illinois Senate and in the U.S. Senate, he has opposed every piece of pro-life legislation that has come before him — even on bills which many “pro-abortion-rights” lawmakers supported, like the proposals to ban partial-birth abortion and to protect all infants born alive during abortions.  I cannot think of any major component of the abortion industry’s legislative agenda that he has not endorsed in some way, or voted for.  He wants to block renewal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion.  Both sides agree that the Hyde Amendment has saved many lives — by the most conservative estimate, there are more than a million Americans alive today because of the Hyde Amendment.  He wants abortion to be part of his national health insurance legislation.

Obama is a cosponsor of the “Freedom of Choice Act,” which would make partial-birth abortion legal again, and invalidate literally hundreds of state laws that have been upheld even under Roe v. Wade.  This bill, by its plain language and the explicit statements of its chief backers, would invalidate all parental notification laws, require states to fund abortion on demand, and invalidate waiting periods and informed consent laws — just for starters.  It would also undermine the laws that protect pro-life health care professionals from being penalized for refusing to participate in abortions.  It is the most radical pro-abortion proposal ever introduced in Congress.  Yet, Obama stood before the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the political arm of the nation’s largest abortion provider, and pledged, “The first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act.  That’s the first thing that I’d do.”

BA: Are you familiar with the 95/10 plan espoused by Democrats For Life ( In your opinion is it possible to reduce abortions by 95% without repealing Roe V Wade? Are you aware of any instances in which Barack Obama has specifically referenced this plan, or has said that he plans to enact it?

DJ: You are referring to a bill that has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) as S. 2407. While it was introduced as a single bill, it is really a compendium of 13 different legislative proposals.  One of these components Obama has already voted against, when it came up this year as an amendment.  It was a proposal to codify (make permanent) a Bush Administration rule that allows states to recognize an “unborn child” as a child eligible for health services under the S-CHIP (children’s health insurance program).  Even Senators Kennedy and Kerry supported that amendment, but Obama opposed it — because the pro-abortion lobby objects to any law or government policy that recognizes the existence of an “unborn child,” and Obama has never, ever bucked the hard-core pro-abortion line on any issue.

Another component of S. 2407 is a minimal “woman’s right to know” provision, which would require that before a woman procures an abortion, she must be provided with certain information, including “the probable gestational age and characteristics of the unborn child at the time the abortion will be performed.”  One of the purposes of the “Freedom of Choice Act,” which Obama strongly supports, is to invalidate state laws that contain such “right to know” requirements, so I don’t think you will see him supporting a federal law that contains any such requirements.

BA: As the Legislative Director for the NRLC, one can assume that a presidential candidates views on abortion weigh heavily on your vote. Do you consider yourself a one-issue voter? What advice would you give to someone who is questioning whether or not to give the abortion issue any weight when trying to determine which candidate to vote for?

DJ: Gross disregard for the right to life of innocent human beings, such as Barack Obama has displayed, should be considered a “disqualifying issue.”  If the government will not protect your basic right to life, then anything else the government may offer in terms of civil liberties or beneficial programs is not going to be of value to you, because you have to be alive to enjoy those liberties and benefits.  The right to life is the predicate to all other rights.

BA: John Roberts said that Roe Vs. Wade is “settled as the law of the land”. Do you believe it will ever be repealed?

DJ: All Supreme Court rulings are “the law of the land,” until they are changed — that is why they call it the “supreme” court.  And every Supreme Court ruling is “settled” — until unsettled by another case, or by a constitutional amendment.  Certainly, there is no basis in the actual Constitution for Roe v. Wade — it is the textbook example of judges misusing their power to impose their personal policy preferences.  So, it should ultimately be overturned, which would restore power to elected lawmakers to protect unborn children.  But how soon that happens will depend on those who nominate and confirm Supreme Court justices.  Obama really has made it quite clear that a commitment to Roe, or worse, is going to be a requirement for anybody he would nominate to the Court.  McCain wants justices who will stick to interpreting the law and leave the legislating to elected lawmakers.  Right now, there are four justices who even wanted to strike down the ban on partial-birth abortions, so the appointment of one additional pro-abortion judicial activist could produce a radically pro-abortion court majority.

BA: It was only 8 years ago that John McCain said that Roe V Wade should NOT be overturned. Do you feel his complete 180 in this issue is genuine, or was this motivated in part by a desire to win the votes of pro-lifers?

DJ: This is a reference to a single anomalous statement purportedly made by McCain before a newspaper editorial board in 1999, which McCain immediately clarified.  McCain has been in Congress since 1983, and he has voted consistently anti-abortion throughout that period.  He has voted explicitly against Roe v. Wade both before and after the disputed statement.  He has sponsored pro-life legislation that, according to pro-abortion groups, offended the principles of Roe v. Wade.   In short, McCain has a full quarter-century record of consistent public policy actions against abortion and against Roe v. Wade.

BA (question submitted by Jordan Green of the Burnside Writers Collective): It seems Christians supporting Barack Obama are weighing the abortion issue differently than they did in 2000 and 2004.  Maybe a vote for McCain means a small chance at Roe v Wade being overturned,but they’re also looking around and saying, ‘We had a Republican presidency and Congress for most of the last 8 years, and things don’t look too good at this point.’  In your opinion, does the chance John McCain has to make ground on the abortion debate outweigh issues like the economy, Iraq War, foreign policy and foreign energy dependence?

DJ: I will leave it to others to debate the relative merits of the candidates on these other issues.  My interest is in making sure that those who sincerely care about the right to life of unborn children, and newborn children, have the facts.  Then they will have to weigh those facts as they see fit.  It would be a shame if people made their evaluations based on the mistaken idea that nothing positive has been accomplished by elected pro-life lawmakers in the past, and/or that Obama’s position is less bad than it really is.

On the positive side, despite the constraints imposed by the Supreme Court, the pro-life side has had significant gains.  At the federal level, despite stiff resistance from pro-abortion interest groups and their congressional allies, under President Bush we’ve enacted the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, protections for pro-life health care providers, and others. At the state level, we’ve enacted hundreds of laws — parental notification, informed consent, waiting periods, curbs on tax funding of abortion, and others — and there is empirical data that these laws in the aggregate prevent hundreds of thousands of abortions.  All of these limits on abortion would be nullified by Obama’s “Freedom of Choice Act.”

Keep in mind, too, that it is not only a question of how soon Roe will be overturned.  Given the wrong kind of nominations, the Court could make things even worse.  In 2007, four Supreme Court justices voted to strike down even the ban on partial-birth abortions, on the basis of a hard-line pro-abortion legal theory that, if it gains a majority on the Court, also will jeopardize the Hyde Amendment and many other hard-won pro-life gains. Obama made it clear that if given the chance, he will appoint justices who agreed with those dissenters.

BA: Outside of voting for a pro-life candidate, what are some specific things individuals can do to help reduce the number of abortions in this country? Are there specific causes, foundations, or life changes folks can make that come to mind?

DJ: Voting for pro-life lawmakers is essential, but certainly there are other essential pro-life activities as well.  We encourage involvement in the work of state and local Right-to-Life organizations, which are involved in the vital work of educating people, especially young people, regarding the wonders of life before birth and the brutalities of abortion.  There are thousands of crisis pregnancy centers and programs, some freestanding and some church-affiliated, that provide practical forms of assistance that many women need to carry their babies to term.  If Obama is able to cut off all federal support for crisis pregnancy centers, as he has advocated, that won’t make the job any easier, but volunteers and private donations are the backbone of these programs. These are just examples.


Thanks to Douglas Johnson for answering my questions, and thanks to anyone who read this far.

And again, I’m not trying to influence anyone’s vote with this, I’m sure most of you already have your mind made up. I only hope this has cleared up some misconceptions and left you more informed than when you started.

There’s a lot of issues out there and abortion is just one of them. I hope you all are able to think through all of them and cast a vote for someone on November 4th.

Intelligent and graceful comments can be left below…anything inappropriate will be garbaged.