Obama says pointed abortion query “above his pay grade”

August 17, 2008

DALLAS – U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama side-stepped a pointed query about abortion on Saturday by “mega-pastor” Rick Warren during a televised forum.


Asked at what point a baby gets “human rights,” Obama, who strongly supports abortion rights, said: “… whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question  with specificity … is above my pay grade.”

He went on to reiterate his view that it was important to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who followed Obama onto the stage of the nationally televised event, was more blunt and more emphatic.

He said a baby’s human rights began “at the moment of conception … I have a 25-year pro-life record.”

Both candidates were vying for the “faith vote,” in particular the one in four U.S. adults who count themselves as evangelical.

Obama took questions first from Warren and McCain followed. The two shared the stage together briefly.

Some centrist evangelicals have said they appreciate moves by the Democratic Party to “soften” the edges of its pro-choice stand by stressing the need to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions — and by also working harder in areas like adoption.

But for many conservative evangelicals — a key part of the evangelical base — life begins at conception and the argument ends there.

The issue remains one of the most divisive and partisan in America — as Obama and McCain highlighted on Warren’s stage.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason)

(Photo credit: REUTERS/Rebecca Cook, Files, USA)


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This is incredible! Not WRIGHT for America has been dogging Obama to answer this exact question about when a baby has rights, since Obama does not even believe they have rights upon birth (hence he opposed the Infants Born Alive Protection Act). So when is it, Obama?

It seems that the people above his pay grade here are Planned Parenthood, who he answers to on this issue.

Obama’s refusal to answer the questions on abortion is a cop out. If he ran his campaign on his true left wing radical liberal beliefs he would have no chance. The abortion issue isn’t the only thing that is above Obama’s pay grade. America can’t afford this radical in the White House.

Posted by Kirt | Report as abusive

This guy is a Harvard-trained lawyer, but can’t answer a simple legal question?

The writers of the Declaration of Independence had no problem answering this, “all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.” Obama ought to read it sometime–or maybe it is above his pay grade.

Posted by Lrk | Report as abusive

John McCain gave a perfect performance last night. Obama, as usual, did not answer one question directly but sidestepped evey issue, to the point that when it was over, I asked myself, “What did her say?”. Please, do not be fooled by Obama’s ‘personality’.If you vote for The Chosen One, you will derserve everything you get. Unfortunately, so will all Americans.

RINO McCain was spot on with his response here, but is considering placing pro-choice Ridge as his VP. Everytime I start to warm up to him, he does, or publicly considers doing something to turn away the base. The latest? The possibility that we’ll have a Democrat as his VP. I love Lieberman, but not as my party’s VP!

“Above his pay grade.” I wonder how many times he plans to use that one in the future. Trouble with Russia? Solving problems with radical Muslims? Too much govt waste?

“Above my pay grade.”

And that’s why he’s unqualified to be POTUS.

Posted by Deana | Report as abusive

It appears to me that for obama to answer any question with “specificity” is above his pay grade. His qualifications are almost minimum wage.

Hey Obama, nothing like avoiding the question! And you’re are so good at telling people on both sides of the fence what they want to hear yet you stumped on this one.
What cracks me up is the liberals will say the child has no rights until it’s born yet on the same breath they want to charge a person with double homicide if someone kills a pregnant woman. You can’t have it both ways!

Personally, after the first tri the child should have rights!

Posted by Adelyn | Report as abusive

I was most interesting to watch the eye contact,or lack thereof as well as the general body language. Who best can stand up to Putin,”when we look in his eyes we see KGB”.
Who do you think you would do business on a handshake with?
TEXAS Cattleman

If you arent sure when life begins, how can you support abortion?

I think Obama made a huge gaffe on this.

Obama’s correct — it is above his pay grade. The presidency is too.

As usual, elitist Obama dodged the question. More ‘pretty words’ with no substance.

Posted by Anon. | Report as abusive

I watched the entire show. Felt J. McCain’s answers were sincere and fell in line with my convictions. Obama;s answers didn’t always fall in line with his voting record, i.e. his answer concerning caring for people in need, (as I relate that to abortion), he hasn’t in the past felt the need to vote for the surviving baby of an abortion to get medical care.

Obama will raise my taxes. I pay enough. Government needs to spend more carefully.


Posted by Sharon Longley | Report as abusive

Query above his pay grade.

Isn’t that exactly what everyone’s worried about?

Posted by J Irwin | Report as abusive

Knowing Obama’s record with a real life case of supporting a babies death, while out of the “womens body”,after an unsuccessful abortion, maybe his elusive answer should have been- Life begins when a baby learns how to speak and can say the words I AM A LIFE AND DO NOT WANT TO BE KILLED!

Do not censor my opinion!!!!

Posted by Steve Tarkington | Report as abusive

If the abortion question is “above paygrade”, then so is the Presidency above his pay grade.

Posted by D E Pullen | Report as abusive

That’s a little scarry – “above my pay grade.” Has he not heard of ultrasounds? How about visualizing the heartbeat at 6 weeks after conception. Come up with something – but above my pay grade says he’ll be on vacation in Hawaii the next time Russia decides to strut its stuff.

Posted by Dee | Report as abusive

If it’s above his pay grade to say whether or not life begins at conception, then what is he doing saying that to kill an unborn baby is OK?! And go check out Jill Stanek’s testimony about how when he was confronted with the fact that at a certain hospital in the State where he was a Senator, Illinois, they were allowing babies that survived being aborted to be left to die in the utility room. Nurse Stanek was fired from her job for going to the head of the hospital about it. She then testified before a hearing at which Obama was the head of, and he said it would be UNCCONSTITUTIONAL to NOT allow it!!! He then accused the nurse of wanting to do away with Roe v. Wade! What a jerk! And you want this creep to be our President?!

Posted by Margie | Report as abusive

Ok, so the question about when life begins is above Obama’s “pay grade” but McCain was able to answer it? Proves Obama is not ready to get $400,000 (the president’s salary).

Seriously, does Obama really think the public is that stupid as to not see that all he was doing was ensuring he didn’t lose Democratic votes from pro-abortion voters?

Posted by David | Report as abusive

To answer that a question is above your “pay grade” is to attempt to push the responsibility for having an answer to the question on someone else.

Is he not qualified to think for himself?

It’s not rocket science, it’s a moral and philosophical question that everyone should think about.

If Obama is going to push his view and back legislation in relation to abortion, he should have an answer to that question that he can explain in a thoughtful manner.

“Above my pay grade” is no excuse for backing murder.

Posted by dave | Report as abusive

If Obama believes that abortion is above his pay grade he is unfit to serve as President. As President he would have to enforce our rights under the Constitution. The primary right of all being Life. If a President is unwilling to obey that, he would be willing to disregard every other right we have.
Every President since Roe has failed in their duty to protect the lives of the innocent babies that have been denied their fundamental right. Roe is a court opinion, not law. Courts do not make law, take the time to read the Federalists Papers and you will discover this lost principle. The President has a Constitutional duty to ignore an illegal court opinion.

Posted by David Kyle | Report as abusive

In God’s eyes, no child is not wanted. Life does begin at conception, which makes abortion wrong. If Obama was a true Christian he would realize this.

Jesus said to give on to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give on to God what is God’s. Jesus kept them separate, He did not combine the two.

As a “true” Christian you first, follow God’s word and then follow the law’s of man. So, a Christian can not except abortion as Obama does

Posted by Glenn G. | Report as abusive

Obama is a showman and the picture of a politician. He knows that his stance on abortion is extraordinarily distasteful to many Americans (he supports partial-birth abortions). Instead of coming forward with a little dignity and _honestly_ answering the question, he sidesteps, tucks his tail, and mumbles something about paygrades.


I believe life begins at conception. That’s simple.
If you support partial-birth abortions, life begins immediately after birth. Still simple. Simply barbaric.

Obama is a coward.

Posted by Matt | Report as abusive

Whether it is about the human rights of the unborn or blatent aggression by Russia, Obama’s response always equivocal. “Maybe this, maybe that… I don’t know (above my pay grade)… both parties are at fault and need to be nice… Let’s just get together and talk…”.

Posted by William Abrahams | Report as abusive

I’m probably not voting this year, but I think that Obamma was refering to God when he made this statement. That is to say, only God can say when life begins. Besides, evangelicals ought to start respecting the sanctomy of life of all the innocent Iraqi people who have been murdered by the American government. PS… I’m registered Republican.

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

Judging from the sexist campaign that the Obama machine ran against Clinton in the primaries, I would say that the US Presidency is above his pay grade as well.

Obama is a presidential intern.

Posted by Judith Schultz | Report as abusive

Hussein proved to be the slick political hack he really is. On most questions he did the rope a dope coming down on both sides of the issues and avoiding specific answers. Unfortunately, the Reverend let him get away with it by never once saying “You didn’t answer my question”. The best example of this was the question on when do you believe life begins. Anyway, take the teleprompter and the expertely written speach away from Hussein and he is just a double talking hack and empty suite novice!

Posted by Jerry from Tampa | Report as abusive

So Obama wants to be president? And then will his “pay grade” be sufficient to answer difficult questions? Or should we judge him now on his unwillingness to answer questions? What an Empty Suit. Whether your pro-life or pro-abortion rights, this fool should at least be required to answer question. When will the 45% of Americans that like this guy wake up?

Posted by Lee in Dallas | Report as abusive

“Above his pay grade”?? How arrogant it that? And yet the faithfull will continue to follow him while degrading McCain calling him “the next Bush”.
Over and over Obama has shown his arrogance. But don’t say anything negative towards him or point out issues against him that matter, that would be “racism”.

Posted by Jerry | Report as abusive

above his pay grade??? what $*&#??? he’s running for the most powerful position in the world. answer the question OBUMMER!!! you are a disgrace to call yourself a Christian, you insult the very word! Kudos for McCain.

Posted by horst | Report as abusive

If there is any question who should be President, look at the way they answer the question. Obama supports late term abortions vehemently, but dances around the issue when dealing with people of faith. McCaim sticks to his position. We are tired of having the last two Presidents who lied all the time.

Posted by unreal | Report as abusive

OBUMMER is unraveling as he speaks!

Posted by horst | Report as abusive

“Above your pay grade” Come on Barack. You are applying to be the leader of the free world. There isn’t a higher pay grade! You are it! If you can’t have enough spine to take a stand, to take a moral and ethical position then you do not have the strength of character and moral reasoning to be my President.

Posted by Bruce Cole | Report as abusive

This man is without a soul. He needs someone to tell him when life begins? He is also a coward, fearful to stand on principle for anything. I take that back, he is not afraid to take a stand against the voiceless and the powerless. Shameful!

Posted by kmne68 | Report as abusive

Absolutely, Mr Obama was certainly out of his depth and probably far below his pay-grade.
He is used to speaking with a teleprompter and a mike in his ear.

He is a complete failure and once again the democrats will lose another election.

Bring back Senator Clinton as fast as you can.

Do Obama and this country a favor.

Posted by SLaz | Report as abusive

“Above my paygrade”? Are you kidding me? I wonder what other issues, that are important to the American people, are above his paygrade. Is the Presidency above his paygrade as well?

Posted by Don Quashie | Report as abusive

Hmmm… Above his pay grade?

The presidency shall remain ‘above his pay grade’ too with glib elitist comments like that.

Posted by Dj | Report as abusive

He did not side step the question, he told the truth. An unborn child’s life is truly in God’s hands. Eternally above his pay grade. I am a mother of four high risk pregnancies. And each time I have to come to terms with the fact that the life inside me does not belong to me, but to God only. My baby is in God’s Hands. Barak Obama knows that an unborn child is in the balance between heaven and earth… this is an issue that involves God, mother, and child – Not some mere man. I think when he says “above his pay grade” he is trying to convey that this is not an issue for the government to decide. This is the stuff of Personal Spiritual Warfare and the government cannot go there – not even if they try. Just as some could say a doctor who provides abortion is playing God; a government who controls a woman’s body and the life growing inside the woman’s body is also playing God. As parents, we are accountable for our children of course under God’s authority. It’s not merely murder to lose an unborn child when the mother knows she will not be able to provide what God intended when he gave us life and the power to create life. It is a profound loss. But so is an abused and neglected unwanted child. So is an orphan trapped in a system that is incapable of true love. So are parents who are lost under a burden they cannot bear. So is a world with an all but forgotten population of orphans. And we all no that a president cannot make abortion just go away, legal or not. Only God can do that. We can commit to being God’s Servants. But if we criminalize and demonize abortion, then we immediately make it much harder to reach out to those who need our help in creating a world where abortion no longer exists. And Jesus will have to come back to finalize that. Barack Obama knows he is no Jesus Christ. He can only humbly follow the teachings of Jesus. And yet some conservatives try to blast him and portray him as portraying himself as Christ. Well, in that case I am sure he would be doing all he could to raise these unwanted babies from the dead and loving them in his open arms. He is only human and he knows it! COME ON! He gave a very human and humble answer to a question concerning the mysteries of life and death.

Posted by mel | Report as abusive

What an incredibly insufficient article! You completely forgot the rest of his answer, and chose instead to cover the 5% of it you could get people to take issue with!

Posted by Hank | Report as abusive

Obama did himself no favor by honestly admitting that neither he nor anyone else knew when life begins. McCain was more demagogic and therefore he will win.

Posted by norman ravitch | Report as abusive

I don’t understand how our so-called educated media continues to miss so many missteps or inconsistencies. John McCain was so emphatic about when babies receive human rights, which is at conception. Yet, he agrees with “Stem Cell Research”. How does one reconcile that inconsistency? It is not ok to abort them but it is ok to remove embryos for scientific experiments.

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive

Coward. Not too shy to kill babies. Just too shy to admit it. Oh, sorry, he is just going to PICK the people that are going to reaffirm a “constitutional right” to kill babies. Don’t kid yourself. Everyday “failed abortions” are put on a table in the laundry room of hundreds of hospitals and clinics and left –sometimes for 8 to 10 hours to DIE. Unheld, unloved, alone. This “man” makes a joke about it.

Typical liberal: Thinks the Iraq war is a waste of time, resources and soldier’s lives, but is willing to allow the government to supplement the wholesale slaughter of millions of innocent unborn children.

Obama seems to have forgotten that the controlling issue on when life begins is governed by law. As a paid US Senator he is expected to cast a vote on on relevant legislation, therefore it is within his pay grade. I believe he has already cast those votes which shows he does not believe that even after birth life has begun and that it is still the mothers right to terminate the childs life. Or else he advocates infanticide.

Posted by Richard | Report as abusive

“… whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity … is above my pay grade.”

typical snarky, empty-suited non-response wrapped in fancy words.

Posted by 1eyeninja | Report as abusive

The Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (BAIPA) both in the Illinois and Federal legislatures was meant to make illegal death by neglect of born but unwanted infants. Obama as a State Senator he said he voted against the Illinois bill because the Federal “neutrality clause” was not included. Turns out he is not telling the truth about this fact. Even worse, he knows better because he was part of the legislative committee that added that very “neutrality clause” to the very same bill.

Thrice in the Illinois legislature, Obama helped block this bill that was designed solely to protect the life of infants already born, and outside the womb, who had miraculously survived the attempt to kill them during an abortion. Thrice, Obama voted to let doctors and nurses allow these tiny human beings die of neglect and be tossed out with the medical waste.

How can a man who purports to be a Christian justify this?

Posted by Ron Fellastanoocci | Report as abusive

Wow. I am so stunned by Obama’s answer my head is reeling. Is he not a human being? Is he not qualified to have an opinion? And is that a message to us lowly citizens, that nor are we qualified to have an opinion? What a collossaly dumb answer. But hey, this is the guy who is letting Bill and Hill push him around in what should be his moment, so how smart can he be.

Posted by Schecke Coxtoastin | Report as abusive

I am neither a Democrat nor an Obamamaniac. Nevertheless, he gets my respect for this reply. Abortion will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court. A President can place his desired candidate on the Supreme Court, but he has no control as to how the Justices will vote on such issues. McCain threw the crowd a sound-bite that they (presumably) wanted to hear. Between the two, Obama’s was the more honest answer.

Posted by lirelou | Report as abusive

regardless of your stance on abortion….scientifically speaking, life begins at conception.

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive