Washington (CNN) -- When the topic turned to contraception and reproductive rights at CNN's debate in Arizona on Wednesday, Newt Gingrich went on the attack, saying that in 2008 "not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide."
It's a striking claim, and he's not the only Republican presidential candidate making it. Speaking at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Forum last March, Rick Santorum said, "any child born prematurely, according to the president, in his own words, can be killed."
Both Gingrich and Santorum are referring to "born alive" bills that were brought up in the Illinois Legislature in 2001, 2002, and 2003 when Obama was a state senator. The intent of the legislation was to protect any infant who survived a botched abortion by requiring the doctor to give life-saving care. In part, the bill said "a live child born as a result of an abortion shall be fully recognized as a human person and accorded immediate protection under the law."
Then-state Sen. Obama opposed the legislation because he said it would undermine the legal protections given to abortions under Roe v. Wade.
On the state Senate floor, Obama said he believed courts would eventually overturn the legislation since it would "essentially bar abortions, because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child." He added that Illinois already had a 1975 state law that protected the life of an infant that survived a botched abortion, if doctors determined the infant could survive. When the legislation came up for a vote in 2001 and 2002, Obama once voted "present" -- essentially a non-vote -- and once voted against it.
In 2002, Congress was also writing a "Born Alive" bill. Obama said several times he would support that version of the bill because it contained a clause that would protect the legal standing of Roe v. Wade. Opponents of abortion rights, such as the National Right to Life Committee, challenged his explanation, saying the 2003 version of the Illinois law contained language virtually identical to the federal law, so by his own logic he should have supported it. He didn't. The new legislation never made it out of the Health and Human Services Committee that he chaired.
In 2008, Christian Broadcast Network Correspondent and CNN contributor David Brody asked then-presidential candidate Obama about the allegations that he supported infanticide. Obama responded by saying, "here's a situation where folks are lying. I have said repeatedly that I would have been completely in, fully in support of the federal bill that everybody supported -- which was to say that you should provide assistance to any infant that was born -- even if it was as a consequence of an induced abortion. That was not the bill that was presented at the state level."
After researching and analyzing the issue, two independent fact-checking groups, Politifact and Factcheck.org
both determined it's not true to claim Obama supported legislation that said "any child born prematurely ... can be killed." In fact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact rated the Santorum's assertion "Pants on fire" -- its rating that a statement is "not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim."
Then there's the part of Gingrich's statement that the "elite media" ignored the story in 2008. In fact, a search on Nexis shows at least eight times when it was mentioned or discussed in detail on CNN during the 2008 campaign. Here are two specific examples:
-- On June 30, 2008, Carol Costello examined the evidence for "The Situation Room" with this introduction: "Some are calling Barack Obama a baby-killer because of a bill he voted down while he was in the Illinois state Senate. It was called the Born-alive Infant Protection Act and it's come back to haunt him. But is it fair?"
That piece was followed by political analysis on the same topic from Bill Bennett and James Carville.
-- In his August 2008 interview, David Brody asked then-presidential candidate Obama: "The born-alive infant protection act. I got to tell you, that's the one thing I get a lot of e-mails about and it's just not just from evangelicals -- it's about Catholics, Protestants -- they're trying to understand it because there was some literature put out by the National Right to Life Committee. And they're basically saying they felt like you misrepresented your position on that bill."