The mood among pro-lifers who were in town for the annual March for Life on Friday was ebullient and optimistic, owing to the failure of the Senate’s health-care reform bill, which opponents said expanded federally subsidized abortion and included no conscience protections.
From a press conference sponsored by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLTC) on Thursday to a large gathering of Catholic youth in the Verizon Center Friday morning to the gathering of an estimated 200,000 people Friday afternoon on the Mall, abortion opponents said public opinion was finally swinging their way.
“You helped change minds in this country,” Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, told the thousands of listeners on the Mall who were there to protest the 37th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision that made abortion a constitutional right. “They’re not going to have abortion funding in the health care bill because of your interest in it. We are going to win this fight.”
Key to the general optimism in the pro-life camp late last week was the surprise election of Massachusetts state Sen. Scott Brown to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate seat, leaving the Democrats one vote shy of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying she lacked the votes to pass the Senate bill in her chamber.
“The health care bill is dead,” said Rep. Parker Griffith, of Alabama, an oncologist who last month switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party. “They may be able to break off a piece or two, but it was fundamentally bad.”
At the NRTLC press conference, legislative director Douglas Johnson said any bill that creates federal subsidies for abortion “will have great difficulty passing the House of Representatives under any circumstances. This is an unpopular bill.”
Another problem was the Senate bill did not include conscience protections for either individuals or hospitals that oppose abortions, he said. This lack energized Republicans like Rep. Todd Tiahrt of Kansas, who tells reporters that the 40 percent of the hospitals in his state that are Catholic would have to close without that provision.
“There’s been a huge turn in the country,” said Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican. “Huge majorities are in our favor, especially on funding of abortion. A lot of members of Congress have realized that the numbers have shifted.”
But, he added, “I remain deeply concerned the abortion president in the White House is still deeply committed to promoting abortion. He’ll be empowering the abortion industry to do a full-court press on this.”
Calls to Emily’s List, which backs pro-choice candidates, were not returned.
At the rally, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, also warned the crowd there will be a reaction.
“We’ve won a battle by defeating Obamacare with the help of voters from Massachusetts last Tuesday,” he said, “but they’ll come back with something else just as bad. Stay awake and don’t fall asleep.”
Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, who missed his son’s Nov. 7 wedding because of a key vote on the House version of the health care bill, said he traveled to Massachusetts a week ago to work for Mr. Brown’s victory.
“I despise socialized medicine that compels taxpayers to pay for abortion,” he said. “I believe Providence intervened in Massachusetts.” Gesturing toward the Mall, “I believe we are going to come back here and celebrate.”
The Rev. Lawrence Swink, pastor of St. Pius X Catholic Church in Bowie, Md., said as much during a morning sermon to 17,345 young Catholics at a Friday morning Mass at the Verizon Center.
“We are going to win the war against the culture of death, and it is ending,” he said. “We’re going to pray, we’re going to march and we’re going to win.”
Karen Cross, the NRTLC’s political director, said the public wants to end the “3,300 people a day losing their lives to abortion” — an annual total of 1.2 million abortions.
As for election in Massachusetts and what that means in terms of defeating the health care bill and chipping away at abortion, “I’m excited,” she said. “It’s like Christmas every day.”