The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller

Obama and Santorum agreed on the Terri Schiavo law

Photo of Wesley J. Smith
Wesley J. Smith
Senior Fellow, The Discovery Institute

Newt Gingrich likes to write “alternate history” novels, such as “Gettysburg,” in which the South wins the epochal battle that in the real world saved the Union. Such fantasies are harmless fun because everyone knows they merely are a game of let’s play pretend.

But some historical revisionism is politically pernicious. Case in point: Now that Rick Santorum has emerged as a credible candidate for the Republican nomination for president, some in the media and the Democratic Party are weaving a blatantly false narrative about the passage of the 2005 federal law intervening in the Terri Schiavo case. Supposedly, the alleged religious fanatic Rick Santorum — he wants to outlaw contraception, don’t you know! — along with Republican theocratic coconspirators, overcame courageous Democrats’ objections to pass a law interfering with a husband’s loving quest to give his wife the merciful release.

But that isn’t even close to what happened seven years ago. In actuality, the Schiavo law was one of the most bipartisan laws passed during the entire Bush presidency.

Here are the facts: As Terri was being dehydrated to death, significant questions were raised in several quarters — and not just among conservatives — about what appeared to be an irregular state court process. On March 20, 2005, Senate Majority Leader William Frist (R-TN) introduced “The Terri Schiavo Incapacitated Protection Bill,” with Santorum and Florida Republican Mel Martinez co-sponsoring. The bill did not prohibit the dehydration, but instead sought an independent federal court review of the state court proceedings to assure that the helplessly disabled woman’s rights had been fully protected. (A federal court subsequently ruled that they had been.)

In order for the bill to be brought to the Senate floor for a vote, unanimous consent was required, meaning that if one senator objected, the bill could not have passed. Surely, if the bill had then been considered an egregious abuse of federal power, at least one of the 44 Democratic senators would have objected! But none did. Not newly seated Senator Barack Obama. Not Senator Hillary Clinton. Neither did any other Democrat, including such liberal icons as Tom Harkin, Harry Reid, Patrick Leahy and Barbara Boxer. Indeed, without objection, the bill passed quickly in an unrecorded voice vote.

Of course, it takes two houses of Congress to tango. So, in the House of Representatives, it was all Republican theocrats all of the time, right? Wrong. The New York Times reported at the time that leaders of both parties “negotiated the final [terms of the] bill.” Moreover, the Democratic leadership did not take an “official position” for or against the measure, surely an odd thing if the country was facing The Attack of the Theocrats. Most notably, because of the emergency nature of the bill, it needed 2/3 of the members voting to pass — meaning it would be very difficult for the Republicans to enact the bill without Democratic help.

And they received it. The bill passed by 203-58. As in the Senate, the actual vote demonstrates that few Democratic members saw the bill as an assault on American freedom at the time. How else can you explain the fact that 102 Democrats were so unconcerned — or less charitably, just unsure which way the political wind would blow — that they didn’t vote at all. (Seventy-one Republicans took the same easy way out, including Texas Representative Ron Paul.)

Of the 100 Democrats who did vote, 47 voted yea and 53 nay — meaning that in total, only 25% of the House caucus actually voted against the bill. Supporters included such notable Democrats as Jesse Jackson Jr., the powerful James Oberstar and Tennessean Harold Ford.