- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2001

Contrary to some pro-life pessimists, President Bush's long-awaited stem cell decision doesn't threaten unborn life. Indeed, it does the very opposite, and the president has nothing to apologize for or explain away.
First, the facts. The president's solution to the stem cell dilemma does nothing more than permit federal funding for research on existing stem cell lines from embryos that have already been destroyed. Not a single dime of federal money will be used to grow new embryos or harvest their cells. Nor will federal dollars be used in research on frozen embryos that have been discarded or abandoned.
If that's not enough, the pessimists should consider the totality of the Bush record before they write him off. This wasn't the new president's first test on human life, and it won't be his last. The glass is definitely half full, not half empty.
From the very outset of his run for the White House, Mr. Bush made it clear in word and deed that he would be different different than his predecessor, who was so beholden to the abortion lobby that he refused even to outlaw infanticide; different than his father, who joined the pro-life cause late in his political life and always seemed a bit uncomfortable with the decision.
Instead of arrogance or awkwardness, the younger Bush offered a humble but unmistakable promise to build "a new culture of life." He chose a pro-life vice president to give meaning to his words, and he appointed a fleet of pro-lifers to key Cabinet posts to put those words into action.
Then, on Jan. 22, he reinstated the ban on federal assistance to international abortion providers. It was exactly eight years earlier that his predecessor lifted that ban and in the process spread the scourge of abortion into every corner of the earth. Thanks in part to Mr. Clinton's executive order, the annual worldwide abortion toll is a staggering 46 million.
By April, Mr. Bush's Health and Human Services Department had notified states that Medicaid would no longer cover the abortion pill RU486. In July, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson drafted a new policy allowing states to provide medical coverage under CHIPs to unborn children.
The stem-cell decision is just the latest indication that a new "culture of life" is indeed taking root, but not just in Washington.
The number of abortions and abortion providers is falling. In 84 percent of U.S. counties, there are no abortion providers at all. Nineteen states have waiting periods in force. And they are having an immediate and dramatic impact. After a waiting period went into effect in Mississippi, the number of abortions fell by 22 percent.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a range of safety regulations and licensing requirements at South Carolina abortion clinics, putting 17 other states with similar laws on firmer constitutional ground and effectively closing down scores of clinics. Forty states allow mothers to sue doctors, drivers, druggists or anyone whose negligence has contributed to the death of a fetus. In the U.S. House, 53 Democrats joined 198 Republicans in making it a federal crime to harm a fetus during an assault on a pregnant woman.
And after two terms with Bill Clinton in the White House, it is the abortion-rights activists who have drifted out of the mainstream and into the fringe. Just as pro-lifers once warned of a slippery slope downward to infanticide, abortion supporters now fear the slippery slope in reverse to the piecemeal dismantling of Roe vs. Wade itself. And they're expressing those fears with the shrillest of rhetoric.
Lambasting a bill that would do nothing more than grant legal protection to infants who escape the womb, a recent press release from the National Abortion Rights Action League howled against the measure as an "anti-choice assault" and accused the bill's supporters of interfering with the "sound practice of medicine."
In an Orwellian disregard for reality, Rep. Jerrold Nadler argued that the fetus-protection bill was designed not to protect women and their babies from violence, but "to label an unborn fetus or zygote or blastocyst as a person."
However, defending pre-birth battery and post-birth feticide doesn't sit well with most Americans. And the numbers are bearing this out: A 1995 Gallup poll found 56 percent of Americans called themselves pro-choice; only 33 percent said they were pro-life. Today, the numbers are even. In fact, 62 percent oppose abortion for convenience, down from 50 percent 10 years ago. And only 15 percent of the public supports abortion after the first trimester.
There may not be a pro-life majority, but there's definitely no longer a pro-choice majority. As NARAL president Kate Michelman recently conceded, "The other side's gaining ground."
We gained a little more with the stem-cell decision. By drawing a line between the possible and the ethical, the president has reminded Americans that even the weakest among us, even a frozen embryo, has rights if not to life, then at least a right not to be disturbed in his petri-dish tomb, a right not to be harvested for our benefit or comfort.
President Bush is trying to lead this country away from Roe vs. Wade's dead-end. It's a journey that will be measured not in long strides, but in baby steps. If the pro-life pessimists refuse to understand that and instead walk away from Mr. Bush, they will do irreparable harm not only to his presidency, but to their own noble cause.

Alan Dowd is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis.

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