The presidential election pits an extremist on abortion against a moderate. President Obama, by any honest accounting, is the extremist.
Obama and his party this fall are waging a political culture war, tagging Mitt Romney and his party as scary radicals on abortion and women's issues. But for more than a decade in public office, Obama has fought a legislative culture war, holding abortion in higher regard than freedom of conscience or even basic respect for human dignity.
Obama's abortion record and views are far outside the American mainstream.
In the Illinois state senate, Obama repeatedly opposed efforts to require hospitals to care for babies who survived abortions. The bill explicitly and repeatedly stated that it in no way pertained to babies still in utero. These assurances, in an identical bill in the U.S. Senate in 2001, were enough to win the vote of every pro-choice senator.
But what was good enough for California liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer was not good enough for Sen. Barack Obama. He steadfastly opposed the born-alive protection measure in Springfield, arguing that the bill -- because it established that babies who survived abortion are people once they are born -- might in the future be used to restrict "abortion rights."
In Obama's America, the rights of a fully born human baby end when they pose a theoretical future threat to legal abortion.
In his 2004 U.S. Senate race, Obama also showed his cards. His campaign sent out a fundraising email in Michelle Obama's name. The issue it used to rally his supporters: partial-birth abortion. The email railed against a federal law that repeatedly passed the U.S. Senate with more than 60 votes, which banned what Michelle called "a legitimate medical procedure."
The "legitimate medical procedure" involves delivering a viable baby part way, then killing her before the rest of her body emerges. Former Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan called it "close to infanticide." Moynihan was close to the truth.
Not only does Obama think partial-birth abortion deserves legal protection, he's passionate enough about the procedure that he raises money off of it.
Obama is an abortion absolutist. He opposes all restriction on abortion. The only red line he had in the 2010 government shutdown debate was federal funding for the nation's leading abortion provider Planned Parenthood. Tax cuts for the rich, domestic spending cuts -- all those things he could accept. Reduced subsidies to the abortion lobby -- that, he could not abide.
Planned Parenthood, NARAL and Emily's List officials pepper his fundraising network. Planned Parenthood, remember, endorsed Obama over Hillary Clinton in 2008.
All of this puts Obama firmly outside the mainstream. In the latest Gallup polls, 71 percent favor laws requiring parental consent before a child gets an abortion. Obama opposes even parental notification. Only 26 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal under all circumstances. Obama thinks it should be legal and subsidized under all circumstances.
Romney, meanwhile, maintains that abortion should be legal in the case of rape. This position is not consistent logically or morally -- either the unborn child is a person or not. But it's the political middle ground.
Why, then, does Obama think he can get away with branding Romney as the extremist?
First, there's the widespread misunderstanding of what the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision did, and how it did it.
Ride the Orange or Blue Lines out to Virginia, and you'll see Obama billboards warning that Romney would overturn Roe. Roe held that abortion was protected by the Constitution through all nine months of pregnancy. Most people don't know that. They think overturning Roe would ban all abortion.
Also, most people don't know that Roe was awful jurisprudence. Pro-choice liberal law professor Laurence Tribe wrote, "behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found." Edward Lazarus, a clerk to Roe author Harry Blackmun, wrote, "As a matter of constitutional interpretation and judicial method, Roe borders on the indefensible."
To stand by Roe requires either ignorance of the facts or ideological dedication to abortion. Obama was a constitutional law teacher. It's not hard to figure out where he's coming from.
Obama's abortion absolutism doesn't come from a deep respect for individual liberty: He's a war-on-drugs stalwart who forces people to buy private health insurance and undergo intrusive scans or pat-downs at the airport. There's something else going on here.
Mitt Romney is, on balance, pro-life. Barack Obama is, to the core, dedicated to preserving the institution of abortion. The American people, to their credit, are far closer to Romney's position than Obama's.
Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.