Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Some pro-life leaders are doing a slow burn over President Bush’s early Cabinet nominations of Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzales and his support of pro-choice Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter.

These leaders say Mr. Bush is not the only one who can claim a mandate from his Nov. 2 victory, since the Bush campaign has credited evangelical Christians with having played a major role.

“Mr. Bush has been disappointing since the election because he supported Specter for the Judiciary chairmanship over the strong objections of pro-life Christians and because he nominated pro-choice candidates for both attorney general and secretary of state,” says Rod Pennington, founder of Voices Heard, a new grass-roots Christian activist group.

American Life League President Judie Brown said that, in a private meeting with her and other pro-life activists, Mr. Gonzales said, “I have no problem with Roe vs. Wade” — the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Mrs. Brown and other abortion opponents have sought to have that ruling overturned ever since.

Mrs. Brown says the Justice Department is “crucial to pro-life concerns” because the attorney general “must defend any law passed by Congress, including the partial-birth abortion ban” that Mr. Bush signed into law last year. “We question where Mr. Gonzales’ heart would be in such a defense,” Mrs. Brown said.

She also said she doubts whether Mr. Gonzales will vigorously press the Justice Department’s lawsuit against an Oregon physician-assisted suicide law brought under Attorney General John Ashcroft, who is stepping down.

As for Miss Rice, currently Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, her job as secretary of state would touch on the right-to-life movement’s concerns in that the Justice Department can — and now does — bar U.S. taxpayer funding of abortion groups overseas.

“It’s one of the few issues where you have a right-to-life concurrence with the State Department,” says Free Congress Foundation Chairman Paul M. Weyrich.

Mr. Pennington says his concern about Miss Rice stems in part from a 1999 San Francisco Chronicle interview in which she is quoted as calling herself a “pro-choice evangelical.” Through a spokesman, Miss Rice declined to discuss that interview or her views on social issues.

Many other evangelical and Catholic abortion opponents say they trust Mr. Bush and support — or at the very least reserve judgment on — his recent Cabinet nominations.

“I know Condoleezza Rice and know something of the way she thinks and have tremendous confidence in her,” said Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Mr. Mohler said he expects Mr. Gonzales would, as attorney general, uphold Mr. Bush’s pro-life policies before the courts.

Mr. Gonzales, currently White House counsel, aroused suspicions in pro-life circles while on the Texas Supreme Court, when he joined a majority in ruling that requiring minors to get parental permission for an abortion would, in some cases, violate the state constitution. Mrs. Brown said Mr. Gonzales’ ruling implied that “he does not view abortion as a heinous crime.”

However, other pro-lifer leaders say they agree with the Colorado-based Focus on the Family, which has said it will support Mr. Gonzales to head the Justice Department.

Meanwhile, Mr. Specter remains a sore point with some traditional-values leaders, still fuming over the support Mr. Bush gave him against a conservative challenger, Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, during the Pennsylvania Republican primary.

Mr. Specter, slated to succeed pro-life Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, as Judiciary chairman when the new Congress convenes, caused an uproar with a post-election interview in which he seemed to be warning Mr. Bush against making pro-life judicial nominations. Mr. Specter later denied such an interpretation, and pledged to support the president’s nominees.

“We have mixed emotions on Arlen,” Michael Bowman, executive director for Concerned Woman Political Action Committee. “We believe if the GOP has to be dependent on him, they will never truly be in the majority.”

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