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Barbara Boxer's Moment of Truth By: Chris Weinkopf
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, October 25, 1999

SIMPLE QUESTIONS do not always yield simple answers, especially when asked on the floor of the United State Senate. Republican Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania spent several minutes Wednesday extracting a "yes" or "no" from his Democratic colleague, Barbara Boxer, to the question: "If [a] baby's foot was inside the mother, but the rest of the baby was outside, could that baby [legally] be killed?"

It was a trap, and Sen. Boxer knew it. Throughout the Senate’s latest debate on the partial-birth-abortion ban, Mrs. Boxer and other opponents of the legislation masterfully managed to discuss anything but partial-birth abortion. Until that moment. Rick Santorum had baited her, and she bit.

It was a no-win situation. Answering yes would be to endorse infanticide, but answering no would expose the flawed logic of her position. Mrs. Boxer and her allies were fighting for the right of a doctor to kill living, breathing human babies at the time of delivery—while only their heads remain in the birth canal. How could she oppose killing when the foot remains inside, but not extend the same protection to the head?

So Sen. Boxer did what politicians usually do when confronted with questions they would rather not answer—she ducked it. "The baby is born when the baby is born," she replied the first time around. Followed by, "You give birth to a baby. The baby is there," and "to me it is obvious when a baby is born." Credit Sen. Santorum for his persistence. After prolonged needling, she could stonewall no more.

Mr. SANTORUM. …What you are suggesting is if the baby's foot is still inside of the mother, that baby can then still be killed.

Mrs. BOXER. I am not suggesting that.

Mr. SANTORUM. I am asking.

Mrs. BOXER. I am absolutely not suggesting that …

Mr. SANTORUM. … But, again, what you are suggesting is if the baby's toe is inside the mother, you can, in fact, kill that baby.

Mrs. BOXER. Absolutely not.

That might not sound like much, but it’s actually an extraordinary concession. It’s a rare, if not unique, admission that killing a baby on its way out of the womb—i.e., partial-birth abortion, which Mrs. Boxer defends—is wrong. When Sen. Santorum pointed out this inconsistency, Sen. Boxer immediately tried to rescind it. "Parliamentary inquiry," she interrupted, "Let the Record show that I did not say what the Senator from Pennsylvania said that I did." But the Congressional Record does not lie.

She must be kicking herself. By responding to Santorum’s interrogation, Sen. Boxer violated the cardinal rule of defending partial-birth abortion: change the subject. Early in her exchange, when she ignored Santorum’s questions, Sen. Boxer expressed an unwillingness to tackle the thorny subject of "when does life begin?" And wisely so, for that requires supporting her view, rejected by 75 percent of Americans, that life starts only when all of the baby is safely in his mother’s arms. That debate is one Mrs. Boxer cannot win, and with the one exception of that moment Santorum had her on the ropes, she dodged it consistently.

On Wednesday, for example, Mrs. Boxer and her allies sounded false alarms about the ban’s alleged threat to public health. "I want to make sure," she gravely cautioned, that "if my daughter, or anybody else's daughter, is in an emergency situation, that the doctor or doctors do not have to open up the law books and decide whether or not they can do what is necessary …" The claim is disingenuous on two fronts, as the ban allows for exceptions when the life of the mother is at risk, and the American Medical Association vouches that the procedure is never medically necessary. Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, whose word is gospel among Democrats when the subject is smoking, has testified to the same. But reiterating false claims beats the alternative—answering inconvenient questions like Sen. Santorum’s.

On Thursday, Mrs. Boxer and company trotted out another red herring—a debate and vote on the merits of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Partial-birth abortion, of course, has nothing to do with Roe, which covers babies inside the womb, not those well on their way out. That’s why many of the senators who voted for the Roe endorsement, including several pro-choice Democrats unwilling to ride the slippery slope from abortion to infanticide, also backed the ban on partial-birth-abortion. (They were still three votes short of overriding a promised Clinton veto.)

But in Washington, relevance is less important than spin, and so Barbara Boxer would rather tap dance atop the Senate rostrum than defend her position on partial-birth abortion. Given the way she was burned when Rick Santorum held her feet to the fire, who can blame her?

Chris Weinkopf is an editorial writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News. To read his weekly Daily News column, click here. E-mail him at chris.weinkopf@dailynews.com.

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