- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2005

President Bush supports congressional proposals requiring abortionists to warn some women that their unborn children will feel pain and banning adults from helping pregnant minors cross state lines to circumvent abortion laws requiring parental notification, the White House said last night.

“President Bush supports both pieces of legislation,” said White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy.

The support signals Mr. Bush’s decision to continue with his incremental opposition to abortion during his second term, at least until the issue explodes over expected vacancies on the Supreme Court.

Although Mr. Bush believes that Americans are not ready to ban all abortions, he is expected to nominate Supreme Court justices in the next four years who might overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that made abortion a constitutional right.

But until there is a vacancy on the court, the president appears content to continue chipping away at the legality of abortion — through proposals such as the 2003 ban on partial-birth abortion and the fetal-pain and state-line proposals — rather than launching an all-out assault.

That strategy was reflected in his annual phone call yesterday to the March for Life in Washington, which was led by pro-life activist Nellie Gray.

“The America of our dreams, where every child is welcomed … in life and protected in law, may still be some ways away,” he acknowledged from Camp David. “But even from the far side of the river, Nellie, we can see its glimmerings.”

The president made it clear that despite the polarizing nature of the abortion debate, he places a premium on politeness.

“I want to thank you, especially, for the civil way that you have engaged one of America’s most contentious issues,” he told the pro-lifers in remarks broadcast on the Mall. “A true culture of life cannot be sustained solely by changing laws. We need, most of all, to change hearts.”

That statement was widely interpreted as a reluctance to challenge Roe v. Wade directly, a posture the president first articulated in a 2003 press conference.

“I don’t think the culture has changed to the extent that the American people or the Congress would totally ban abortions,” he told reporters in the Rose Garden then.

But pro-life activist Stephen Peroutka, who participated in yesterday’s march, said, “That’s a tough thing to say to the 4,000 babies who will be aborted tomorrow — that this is not the right time to outlaw abortion.

“When is the right time — when public opinion polls say it’s the right time?” he asked. “Shouldn’t he be a leader and make it the right time? Let’s stop leading by public-opinion polls.”

Mr. Peroutka credited the president with reigniting the debate over abortion, even if he hasn’t gone far enough in banning the practice. He called for Mr. Bush to adopt a take-no-prisoners approach to abortion in his second term.

But White House press secretary Scott McClellan suggested that the president will continue to take a nonconfrontational approach to the abortion issue.

“I think that he’s made it very clear that whether we agree or disagree on the issue of abortion, that we can all work together to take practical steps to reduce the number of abortions,” the spokesman said yesterday.

According to the White House, those steps include passage of the Child Custody Protection Act and the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act.

The first measure would make it illegal for an adult to transport a minor across state lines to avoid a parental-notification law in the girl’s home state.

The second measure would require abortion doctors to inform mothers how painful an abortion will be to an unborn child at least 20 weeks old and to offer anesthesia for the fetus.

Mr. Bush already enacted several pro-life pieces of legislation during his first term. For example, he signed a law giving victim status to unborn children who are injured or killed in violent crimes.

The president also signed a ban on partial-birth abortion, although the ban has been challenged by several federal judges. The Bush administration is fighting those challenges in various jurisdictions.

Also during his first term, the president curtailed federal funding of research on stem cells from human embryos. Although Mr. Bush allowed research to continue on existing stem-cell lines, researchers announced Sunday that those lines are contaminated with a foreign molecule from mice that might make them risky for use in medical therapies.

“The human embryonic stem cells remained contaminated … even when grown in special culture conditions,” said researcher Dr. Ajit Varki of the University of California at San Diego.

Mr. McClellan said the study came as no surprise to the Bush administration, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Food and Drug Administration.

“We were very well aware from the beginning that these lines contained that trait,” he said. “But NIH has made it clear that these lines are adequate to supply us with the kind of basic research that needs to be done.”

Mr. Bush has said his decision to curtail stem-cell research is part of a multifaceted effort to create a “culture of life.”

For example, he once praised his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, for preventing the removal of a feeding tube from Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman in a persistent vegetative state.

But yesterday, the Supreme Court refused to reinstate a Florida law that has kept her hooked to the feeding tube. It was not clear when the tube might be removed.

“The strong have a duty to protect the weak,” Mr. Bush said yesterday. “In a culture that does not protect the most dependent, the handicapped, the elderly, the unloved or simply inconvenient become increasingly vulnerable.”

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