Barack Obama’s pursuit of evangelical voters has pushed the abortion issue to the fore of the campaign debate and risks mobilizing pro-life voters - who so far have been apathetic about Republican John McCain - to oppose the Democrat.
“Obama might think he´s making inroads by bringing up the reduction of abortion, but putting the issue on the table makes it fair game to explore how extreme he really is,” said Justin Taylor, a book editor and evangelical blogger.
Mr. Obama has talked about reducing the number of “unwanted pregnancies” and is trying to appeal to pro-life voters with a platform aimed at reducing factors that lead to abortions, such as poverty and lack of sex education for young people.
But the Illinois Democrat remains unapologetically pro-choice, and his voting record on the issue has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks.
Pro-life groups point to Mr. Obama’s opposition in the Illinois legislature to the Born Alive Infant Protection Act and to his 2007 statement to Planned Parenthood that he hopes one of his first acts as president would be to sign a bill that would eliminate state and local government restrictions on abortion.
The Obama campaign touted its outreach to evangelical voters and maintained that the appeal to “values voters” has focused at least as much on the economy as on moral or faith issues.
“Barack Obama is committed to reaching out to evangelicals and people of all faiths on a range of core values issues, from strengthening American families to fixing our broken economy,” said Nick Shapiro, an Obama campaign spokesman. “We have a choice to make in this election: We can either choose a new direction for our country and our economy or we can keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
The abortion debate has exploded since Democrats changed their party platform to appeal to people of faith and the presidential candidates appeared Saturday at a forum at the Rev. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.
Mr. Warren asked Mr. Obama during the forum at what point unborn babies should be given human rights.
“Answering that question with specificity … is above my pay grade,” Mr. Obama replied.
Mr. McCain told Mr. Warren that life begins “at the moment of conception.”
The Rev. Russell Moore, dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s school of theology, called Mr. Obama’s answer an insult to evangelicals, Roman Catholics and other Americans concerned about life issues.
“I am hearing from evangelicals on the rightward end of the spectrum all over the country who were appalled by Senator Obama’s comments,” said Mr. Moore, who worked for Rep. Gene Taylor, Mississippi Democrat, before entering the seminary in the early 1990s.
Douglas Kmiec, a conservative lawyer who is pro-life but has endorsed Mr. Obama, called the Democrat’s answer “much too glib for something this serious.”
He added, however, that Mr. Obama’s entire response was more “thoughtful” than Mr. McCain’s.