Barack Obama

In a continuing series on presidential candidates, the Register takes a look at Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

WASHINGTON — Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., continues to court religious audiences in Iowa in his quest to surpass Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., as the Democratic nominee in the presidential primaries.

Obama reaches out to religious voters with compelling speeches about the need to move forward and abandon politics of division.

Recently in Iowa, where candidates are busy trying to win over voters ahead of the Jan. 3 caucuses, Obama, 46, suggested that it was important to find common ground on the abortion issue, as he answered a question posed by a voter.

“I don’t think you’re ever going to get a complete agreement on this issue,” he said. “If you believe that life begins at conception, then I can’t change your mind. I think there is a large agreement, for example, that late-term abortions are really problematic and there should be a regulation. And it should only happen in terms of the mother’s life or severe health consequences, so I think there is broad agreement on these issues.”

Political activists say, however, that Obama’s record does not demonstrate any policy switch to compromise on the important issues.

“All you have to do is look at his record, as thin as it is, and get a hint,” said Connie Mackey from Family Research Council Action. “You would be very naive to think that he wouldn’t be a lock for pro-abortion advocates.”

In spite of his rhetorical subtleties, Obama’s record in the U.S. Senate and the Illinois Senate is markedly pro-abortion in nature.

In April, after the Supreme Court upheld the Congressional ban on partial-birth abortions passed in 2003, Obama came out strongly against the decision, stating that the ruling “dramatically departs from previous precedents safeguarding the health of pregnant women.”

“I am extremely concerned that this ruling will embolden state legislatures to enact further measures to restrict a woman’s right to choose,” Obama added, “and that the conservative Supreme Court justices will look for other opportunities to erode Roe v. Wade, which is established federal law and a matter of equal rights for women.”

In July, while speaking to a Planned Parenthood convention in Washington, D.C., Obama reiterated his opposition to the ban and the Supreme Court that upheld it.

“We know that five men don’t know better than women and their doctors what’s best for women’s health,’’ he said. Planned Parenthood Action Fund Inc. contributed heavily to Obama’s Senate campaign in Illinois and donated about $1,800 to his presidential campaign the day of his speech.

Pro-abortion legislators responded by introducing the Freedom of Choice Act, a few weeks after the contentious ruling. If passed, the bill would invalidate federal, state or local laws that deny or interfere with a woman’s access to abortion. Obama joined Hillary Clinton as a co-sponsor of the measure.

Pro-life activists have stated that the bill is an aggressive use of federal power attempting to end to the pro-life position as a matter of public policy.

“In terms of public visibility I can not detect a difference between Clinton and Obama’s position,” said Bill Beckman of Illinois Right to Life, about Obama’s abortion views. He added that the two candidates “were pretty much identical.”

“He has the same left-wing package that you would get with Hilary Clinton but in better wrapping,” said Brian Burch of the Chicago faith-based advocacy group Fidelis America.

Beckman also noted that as an Illinois legislator, Obama voted against the Induced Infant Liability Act, which would have protected babies that survived late-term abortions, a position that NARAL conceded to pro-life activists on the federal level.

“Obama has been solidly pro-abortion since the beginning,” Beckman added.

Although Obama was largely raised in a secular household, he attended both a Catholic school and a Muslim public school in Indonesia during his youth.

As he grew into the Chicago community, working as an organizer of Christian churches, Obama was drawn to the historically black Trinity United Church of Christ.

“I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and affirm my Christian faith,” said Obama in a 2006 speech to members of Sojourners Call to Renewal’s conference. “It came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to his will and dedicated myself to discovering his truth.”

Since then, Obama has made similar speeches to religious audiences blasting the “religious right” for “suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay ‘marriage,’ school prayer and intelligent design.”

Obama’s speeches to religious groups have articulated in moral terms issues such as tax cuts, funding education, health care and the need to close Guantanamo Bay, and insist that people of faith should find common ground in the political realm.

“Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality,” he stated in his 2006 speech. “It involves the compromise, the art of what’s possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise.”

Critics admit that Obama has successfully blended his principles of faith with his politics, but still question his ability to affect principled voters.

Mackey noted that Obama’s speeches were “very relaxed and well spoken” but very “Clinton-ese” in style, lacking real conviction. “‘Let’s move forward’ is a great line,” she said, “but the direction that he wants to move forward into is not the direction that any pro-life, pro-family Catholic would want to go.”

Charlie Spiering

writes from Washington, D.C.

Race ’08: A Series

The Register has so far profiled the following presidential candidates. Readers can access these stories at

Sam Brownback, Feb. 4, 2007:

Hillary Clinton, Nov. 11, 2007:

Rudy Giuliani, Oct. 7, 2007:

Mike Huckabee, Nov. 18, 2007:

Mitt Romney, Aug. 19, 2007: