Barbara Boxer in Context

By Will, George F. | Newsweek, August 9, 2010 | Go to article overview

Barbara Boxer in Context


Will, George F., Newsweek


Byline: George F. Will

You can see it on YouTube today.

As Ronald Reagan prepared for his presidential debate with Jimmy Carter in October 1980, some Reagan aides pondered how their candidate should respond if Carter unearthed some of the at-times-too-colorful things Reagan had said over the years. For example, when in 1974 Patty Hearst's kidnappers demanded the distribution of free canned goods, Reagan reportedly quipped that this would be a good time for an outbreak of botulism. What, an aide wondered, should Reagan say about that? After a long pause, a wit suggested: "He should say it was taken out of context."

In a letter in last week's NEWSWEEK, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said that, in the previous issue, this columnist got her position on late-term abortion "wrong" by "taking my words out of context." Well.

C-Span recorded her words in the Oct. 20, 1999, Senate colloquy that can be seen today on YouTube. The colloquy concerned the procedure commonly called "partial-birth" abortion. Boxer and other maximalists regarding the "right to choose" prefer the more anodyne but less descriptive phrase "late-term" abortion. Readers can decide which is the more candid denotation of this: The baby is about 80 percent delivered, feet first, until a portion of the skull is exposed. Then the skull is punctured and collapsed as its contents are sucked out.

In the 1999 colloquy, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said: Suppose during this procedure the baby slips entirely from the mother's birth canal. "You agree, once a child is born, is separated from the mother, that that child is protected by the Constitution and cannot be killed? Do you agree with that?" Boxer: "I think when you bring your baby home, when your baby is born -- the baby belongs to your family and has all the rights." Santorum persisted: "Obviously, you don't mean they have to take the baby out of the hospital for it to be protected by the Constitution. Once the baby is separated from the mother, you would agree--completely separated from the mother--you would agree that the baby is entitled to constitutional protection?" She would not say "yes." Instead, she said, understandably: "I don't want to engage in this."

Two issues ago, this column said, "It is theoretically impossible to fashion an abortion position significantly more extreme than Boxer's, which is slightly modified infanticide. …

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