Anti-Abortion Group Tries to Swiftboat Obama
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Two weeks ago, BornAliveTruth.org, an anti-abortion group headed by Jill Stanek, launched a major attack on Sen. Barack Obama with a very personal and heart-wrenching television advertisement aimed at the voters in the toss-up states of New Mexico and Ohio. The ad, which according to Stanek cost the organization $338,000 to run -- in addition to what it is paying its public relations firm, CRC Public Relations -- was titled "The Gianna ad," and features Gianna Jesson, who is identified as an "Abortion Survivor."
"My name is Gianna Jesson, born 31 years ago after a failed abortion," Jesson states in the ad. "But if Barack Obama had his way, I wouldn't be here. Four times Barack Obama voted to oppose a law to protect babies left to die after failed abortions. Senator Obama, please support Born Alive Infant Protection. I'm living proof these babies have a right to live."
The ad, paid for by conservative philanthropist Raymond Ruddy, "singles out Obama's efforts while in the Illinois Senate to defeat the Born Alive Infants Protection Act," according to the Associated Press' Jim Kuhnhein. The AP story reported that "Obama and abortion rights forces in Illinois have said the bill would have undermined the landmark Supreme Court case on abortion, Roe v. Wade."
The BornAliveTruth spot has garnered a great deal of media attention for both Jesson and Stanek. In a late-September telephone interview, Stanek told Media Transparency that both she and Jesson have made a number of television and radio appearances. According to Stanek, in its first two weeks, the ad garnered more than 200,000 hits on YouTube and other websites that have made it available.
Jesson recently appeared on the Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" program -- the video of which is featured at the BornAliveTruth website. In addition to coverage in the New York Times, CNN, the Washington Times and the Associated Press, the organization's launch received blanket coverage from such like-minded sites as Conservative Grapevine, Catholic News Service, LifeSiteNews, LifeNews, Stop the ACLU, OneNewsNow, WorldMag.com and many more.
The Mokena, Illinois-based BornAliveTruth.org's "Mission Statement" declares that it is "a 527 political organization whose mission is to educate the public on the IL Born Alive Infants Protection Act and Barack Obama's record opposing this act."
According to a "Description Statement" on its website, the organization maintains that it is a "non-partisan issues advocacy organization dedicated to the proposition that any infant born alive is entitled to receive medical attention and be treated as a human being. We work to inform the public of the importance of this issue, legislative efforts to protect born alive infants, and how our elected officials have voted on born alive protections. BornAliveTruth.org is your best source for information about this issue and our activities."
In the "Know the Facts" section of Barackobama.com the Obama campaign provided a lengthy point-by-point rebuttal of BornAliveTruth.org's charges as well as charges by other anti-abortion groups (see "The Truth Behind False, Outrageous Lies about Obama and ''Born Alive.'')
In late August, FactCheck.org, a well-respected project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, which describes itself as "a nonpartisan, nonprofit, 'consumer advocate' for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics," looked closely at the issue after the National Right to Life Committee claimed that Obama had conducted "four-year effort to cover up his full role in killing legislation to protect born-alive survivors of abortions":
At issue is Obama's opposition to Illinois legislation in 2001, 2002 and 2003 that would have defined any aborted fetus that showed signs of life as a "born alive infant" entitled to legal protection, even if doctors believe it could not survive.
Obama opposed the 2001 and 2002 "born alive" bills as backdoor attacks on a woman's legal right to abortion, but he says he would have been "fully in support" of a similar federal bill that President Bush had signed in 2002, because it contained protections for Roe v. Wade.
We find that, as the NRLC said in a recent statement, Obama voted in committee against the 2003 state bill that was nearly identical to the federal act he says he would have supported. Both contained identical clauses saying that nothing in the bills could be construed to affect legal rights of an unborn fetus, according to an undisputed summary written immediately after the committee's 2003 mark-up session.
Whether opposing "born alive" legislation is the same as supporting "infanticide," however, is entirely a matter of interpretation. That could be true only for those, such as Obama's 2004 Republican opponent, Alan Keyes, who believe a fetus that doctors give no chance of surviving is an "infant." It is worth noting that Illinois law already provided that physicians must protect the life of a fetus when there is "a reasonable likelihood of sustained survival of the fetus outside the womb, with or without artificial support."
FactCheck.org also pointed out that while in the ad Jessen says that "'if Senator Obama had his way, I wouldn't be here,' She's wrong. Anyone born in Illinois under the same circumstances as Jessen (who was actually born in California) would have been protected under the state's law as it stood, with or without the legislation that Obama opposed."
Jill Stanek's Crusade
BornAliveTruth.org was founded in July of this year and is headed by Stanek, a former Chicago-area nurse who in January 2003 was named by World magazine as one of the 30 most prominent pro-life leaders of the past 30 years.
Stanek, who blogs at Pro-life Pulse, tells her story on the group's website:
In 1999, I discovered that Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois, where I worked as a labor and delivery nurse, was leaving babies who survived induced labor abortions to die in the soiled utility room.
I personally held one of these infants 45 minutes until he gasped his last breath.
When I explained my experience to hospital administrators, they refused to stop their horrific treatment of these infants.
After going public, my story immediately grabbed the attention of legislators and media, which resulted in the introduction of the Illinois Born Alive Infants Protection Act.
Christ Hospital fired me in August 2001 for reasons related to my public statements.
I testified before Barack Obama in the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee and Health and Human Services Committee as well as the US House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.
On August 5, 2002, I joined President George W. Bush for his signing of the federal version of the Born Alive Infants Protection Act.When asked if she thought the BornAliveTruth ads were examples of "Swiftboating," Stanek said that she thought that the term Swiftboating "has taken on an unpleasant and inaccurate meaning." After all, she noted, "The swiftboating ads were proven to be true."
Stanek said that she didn't "mind being considered an organization that is negatively impacting Barrack Obama. I don't mind that our publicist [CRC Public Relations] was a publicist for the Swift Boaters. It is a badge of honor. I am happy to be associated with a publicist that has proved to be very successful in a 527 endeavor."
Stanek recently told LifeNews.com that "We're hearing from the media Obama's people are telling them they have no comment on the Gianna ad, that Obama didn't vote for Born Alive because it would undermine Roe. Even if that were true, which it is not, am I hearing Obama admit he supports infanticide if it would otherwise interfere with legalized abortion?"
The major donor to BornAliveTruth -- a 527 allowed to raise money from individuals in unlimited amounts -- is Raymond Ruddy, who is described by the AP as "a prominent anti-abortion philanthropist in Massachusetts who supported Mitt Romney for president in the GOP primary."
In 2004 Ruddy, who sits on the board of the Reston, Virginia-based Maximus, a giant government services provider that is heavily involved in welfare privatization, donated nearly $400,000 to Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family Action's anti-gay marriage campaigns. He also gave $117,916 to the anti-abortion Your Catholic Vote, a group that mounted an anti-Kerry campaign attacking the Massachusetts Senator in newspaper ads that ran across the country. For the 2006 midterms Ruddy and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth financier Carl Lindner kicked $847,000 into Common Sense Ohio that ran push polls and deceptive ad campaigns in seven states.
Publicity for BornAliveTruth is being handled by CRC Public Relations. Founded in 1989 by a group led by CRC's current chairman, Leif Noren, the company, headed by its current president, Greg Mueller, provides "strategic counsel" for "designing ... media program to tactical implementation, [and] ... delivers a full range of media relations services in today's 24 hour news cycle."
According to its website, "CRC clients include some of the world's largest corporations, industry groups, non-profit organizations, associations and legislative & public policy initiatives. Whether you are launching a new product, facing an imminent crisis, or looking to educate the public, CRC helps you achieve your objectives through customized public relations programs."
CRC's client list includes conservative advocacy groups, think tanks, links to the Republican Party, conservative philanthropy funded organizations, and media outfits such as Americans for Fair Taxation, Americans for Hope, Growth & Opportunity, the Discovery Institute, the Federalist Society, the Manhattan Institute, the Media Research Center, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Parents Television Council, Regnery Publishing, and Walden Media.
SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy, has reported that earlier this year the Alexandria, Virginia-based CRC was involved "in an attempt to hold Senator Charles Schumer responsible" for the collapse of California's IndyMac Bank. SourceWatch reported that in late June Schumer, the chair of Congress' Joint Economic Committee, "went public with his concerns about the bank." A number of former bank employees -- with the assistance of CRC -- claimed that the Senator's negative assessments of IndyMac led to a run on the bank, "with depositors taking out a net $1.3 billion in the following two weeks," according to the Los Angeles Times.
The former employees accused Schumer of "a malicious, politically motivated act." CRC circulated a letter from the employees to California Attorney General Jerry Brown to major media. "The letter, signed mostly by former staffers at IndyMac's now-shuttered mortgage operation, asks Brown to investigate Schumer and to prosecute him under a state law making it a misdemeanor to spread false and damaging statements or rumors about a bank," the Los Angeles Times reported.
CRC was also a major player in the Jerome Corsi's best-selling book, "Unfit for Command," William Triplet reported in Variety, in February of 2006.
BornAliveTruth is not the only anti-abortion group in play against Obama. According to FEC filings, the National Right to Life Political Action Committee has spent slightly over $154,000 thus far this year, while the Life and Liberty PAC has spent $978,000 to defeat Obama. CQ MoneyLine recently reported that the Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion, "has given $175,000 to candidates and political committees opposed to abortion this election ... [and] has also spent over $100,000 running ads against Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and other abortion rights candidates."
Stanek also told Media Transparency that although she had been contacted by the McCain campaign in July for information about Obama, she hadn't heard from them since that time. At this point, it is unclear whether BornAliveTruth will continue to exist beyond November. For now, she is making media appearances, continuing to raise money for "educational endeavors in general," and is dedicated to defeating Barack Obama.
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering right-wing groups and movements.