Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Second of a three-part series

If traditional-values candidates took a beating in the 2006 elections, pro-life causes were pulverized.

Although last month’s Supreme Court ruling to uphold the ban on partial-birth abortion was a welcome boost for pro-life forces, they are still recovering from last year’s defeats.

For instance, South Dakota, Missouri and Kansas — all states as red as Dorothy’s ruby slippers — voted against pro-life measures or officials. Parental-notification bills were thrown out in Oregon and California, and in state after state, Republican pro-life stalwarts lost their jobs.

By day’s end, America had elected “the most pro-choice Congress in the history of the republic,” University of Maryland political science professor Thomas F. Schaller wrote in a column in February in the Baltimore Sun.

Moreover, Mr. Schaller said, if Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York — or any other Democratic contender — wins the White House in 2008, “the most pro-choice Congress in American history” will become “the most pro-choice government in American history.”

Has America’s pro-life movement lost its clout? Is the 34-year abortion war finally ending, with the pro-choice view in command?

In a three-part series, The Washington Times examines the future of the traditional-values movement, including the status of the abortion issue and the role of women.

Abortion warriors on both sides are taking stock of their positions, and both like what they see.

The pro-choice side is touting its “prevention-first” strategy. Introduced in 2005 by Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, the strategy is intended to broaden the abortion issue, create new alliances and appeal to voters whose religious views previously had led them to support Republican candidates.

In Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic Reps. Louise M. Slaughter of New York and Tim Ryan of Ohio have introduced bills to reduce unintended pregnancies — and abortions — by funding more family planning and contraceptive services.

Catholics For a Free Choice echoes the theme in its new “Prevention Not Prohibition” campaign. In a world of reliable birth control, responsible parenting, child care and affordable health care, “abortions aren’t illegal. They’re prevented,” one of the group’s ads states.

And like their opponents on the other side of the debate, pro-choice advocates were galvanized by the Supreme Court’s ruling on partial-birth abortions.

“We must elect a Congress that will repeal this ban and a president who will sign the repeal. November 2008 can’t come soon enough,” said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women.

The pro-life side, however, has a different take.

“I think we’ve won the abortion war,” said Janice Shaw Crouse, director of the Beverly LaHaye Institute at Concerned Women for America.

Technology “is on our side,” she said, citing four-dimensional ultrasounds, photographs of weeks-old unborn babies and life-saving advances for very premature infants. Such advances helped save the life of Amillia Taylor, who was less than 22 weeks old when she was born in October. Amillia, who weighed 10 ounces at birth, was released from a Florida hospital in February, and doctors are optimistic about her future.

Technology is helping people recognize “that that is a baby” in there, Mrs. Crouse said, “and when you make that point, you’ve won.”

Beyond abortion

Although decades of education have made Americans more aware and concerned about the sanctity of human life, pro-life advocates are facing two new challenges in the abortion battle, said Daniel McConchie, executive director of Americans United For Life.

One challenge is the ethics of stem-cell research and other technology, he said. Pro-life advocates and bioethicists are pitted against a well-funded biotech industry, scientists and universities.

“Wall Street doesn’t roll over quietly,” Mr. McConchie said, referring to the many special interests that will fight to keep the biotech field “wide open” for research, even if it involves experimenting with human life. Public education and public opinion on cloning and other complex matters are very important, but unfortunately, there’s a steep learning curve on these issues and a lot of misinformation has gone out already, he said.

A second challenge is the pro-choice groups’ renewed focus on contraception as abortion prevention.

Many pro-life groups don’t take a stand on contraception — “We’re happy for any way to avoid abortion,” Mr. McConchie said — and most Americans are likely to support a more-birth-control approach because so many of them use it themselves.

But the pro-choice side also will undoubtedly use the strategy “to try to split the pro-life movement,” he said. Many pro-life advocates — especially Roman Catholics — see birth control as a grievous violation of God’s natural law.

In short, Mr. McConchie and others said in interviews with The Washington Times, while the overall traditional-values movement regroups in anticipation of the 2008 elections, pro-life groups are gearing up for fights in new and old territories. How the public — especially the younger generations — will react to emerging issues in the abortion wars is anybody’s guess.

In the ballot box

There were several closely watched abortion contests in 2006.

In South Dakota, lawmakers and Republican Gov. Michael Rounds enacted a virtual ban on abortions in direct challenge to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion.

Pro-life groups cheered the new law, but national pro-choice forces swiftly rallied to place it on the ballot, as allowed by state law. Voters were bombarded with political ads, accusations about funding and misinformation, and images of coat hangers spray-painted on pro-life yard signs. When they finally had the chance to speak, voters crushed the new law, 56 percent to 44 percent.

In Missouri, an even more vigorous campaign was waged over an amendment to allow state funding of embryonic stem-cell research that outlawed “human cloning” but permitted a kind of cloning experiment that takes place only in laboratories. The measure passed by a narrow margin. In addition, Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, was successful in her bid to unseat Sen. Jim Talent, a traditional-values leader and opponent of the stem-cell measure.

In Kansas, voters had the chance to re-elect state Attorney General Phill Kline, a crusading pro-lifer who had filed a case against abortion providers whom he suspected had covered up child rapes and performed illegal late-term abortions. But voters overwhelmingly backed Paul Morrison, a Republican-turned-Democrat who all but promised not pursue Mr. Kline’s strategy.

Pro-choice leaders quickly cited the voters’ wisdom.

The “American pro-choice majority will not allow any assault on Roe v. Wade to go unanswered,” Ms. Keenan told reporters after the election.

Emily’s List, a powerful political action committee dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women, said that with 12 winners in the Senate and 50 in the House, it was reaping the benefits of 20 years of fundraising and outreach.

“We won at every level and will see a living symbol of our success when Nancy Pelosi picks up the speaker’s gavel,” Emily’s List President Ellen R. Malcolm said in December. Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, became the first female speaker of the House.

Pro-life forces faulted a lack of leadership from their Republican allies.

“While South Dakotans fought valiantly to defend their babies, we once again witnessed an almost total lack of support from the national leadership,” the Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer, president of Human Life International, told the Associated Press.

Falling numbers

In practice, however, the number of abortions being performed is decreasing.

The national rate of induced abortion per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 peaked in 1981 and has since fallen. The estimated 1.28 million abortions performed in 2003 was down 20 percent since 1990, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive research organization named for a former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The Guttmacher Institute also reports that the number of abortion providers has fallen 11 percent, from 2,042 in 1996 to 1,819 in 2000. This includes 833 clinics, which perform 93 percent of abortions; 603 hospitals; and 383 physician’s offices.

Dozens of recent polls show that roughly one-fifth of American adults take extreme positions — 20 percent say they support abortion under “any” circumstance and 20 percent support it under “no” circumstance. The remaining 50-plus percent supports abortion under certain circumstances.

However, there are two areas in which survey data heartens pro-life advocates: Most Americans think abortion is “morally wrong,” and younger Americans often seem to side with pro-life positions.

Pro-life supporters see young Americans as their long-awaited cavalry.

“These are the generations behind us who will then take the torch on these issues and carry it,” said Joseph Cella, president of Fidelis, a Catholic traditional values group in Chelsea, Mich.

“I think this is a generation that can’t ignore the aftermath of abortion in a way that their parents and even their grandparents could,” said Deirdre McQuade, spokeswoman for the Pro-Life Secretariat at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The conference has been sponsoring a “second look” media campaign that asks Americans — especially young women — to ask themselves, “Have we gone too far?” on abortion.

But pro-choice groups are not idle in youth recruitment. Many have outreach groups, such as the National Council of Women’s Organizations’ Younger Women’s Task Force, which recently sponsored a women’s equality summit in Washington.

And the Democrats’ broad approach to issues will be more attractive to youth than the narrow spectrum of issues offered by traditional-values groups, said Eric Sapp of Common Good Strategies, a Democratic consulting group.

“If there’s one candidate that’s always speaking about abortion and gays, and you’ve got other candidates talking about abortion reduction and improving the family in a lot of ways, improving the environment, getting involved in one campaign to do international debt relief, those [young, faithful] people are going to flock, as they did in the last election, to the Democrats,” Mr. Sapp predicted.

Back in court

The Supreme Court’s ruling in April in Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood and Gonzales v. Carhart, the partial-birth-abortion cases, likely will affect a number of lawsuits challenging state bans, such as those in Missouri, Virginia and Utah.

It also will ratchet up the battle over judicial appointments.

The high court’s 5-4 decision, in which Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. voted in the majority, “clearly shows the importance of having strong judicial conservatives on the bench,” said Andrea Sheldon Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition. Both justices are new to the bench.

“The bottom line is clear: Elections matter,” Ms. Keenan of NARAL Pro-Choice America said after the Carhart decision.

Meanwhile, pro-choice forces are urging passage of the “Freedom of Choice Act,” which would enshrine the Roe v. Wade decision in federal law. They also want to see the introduction of a federal privacy protection law to stave off court-ordered “fishing expeditions” in abortion records, as well as the repeal of the 1976 “Hyde amendment,” which forbids federal funding for abortion.

On the other side, pro-life advocates are continuing to “fence in” abortion, as Americans United for Life president Peter A. Samuelson writes in the group’s state-by-state legislative handbook, “Defending Life 2007.”

Pro-life forces also are backing bills in North Dakota, Texas and Virginia that would ban nearly all abortions in those states in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned. A similar “trigger” bill was signed into law in March in Mississippi by Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican.

In South Carolina, the House recently passed a bill to require a woman seeking an abortion to first look at the ultrasound image of her unborn baby. However, a state Senate panel removed that language on April 12, setting up a possible showdown between the two Republican-led chambers.

In Missouri, pro-life leaders are revisiting the embryonic stem-cell research issue. Lawmakers introduced a bill to put an amendment before voters in 2008 that would give the legislature the power to control research funding and ban any kind of cloning. However, a House panel voted it down in late April.

Jaci Winship, executive director of Missourians Against Human Cloning, has said her group will lead a petition drive to put the amendment on the 2008 ballot if it didn’t pass in the legislature.

Connie Farrow, spokeswoman for the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, insists that her group will stand its ground.

“Make no mistake,” Ms. Farrow told the Associated Press. “We are not going to let this group undo what we fought so hard to accomplish.”

Part I: Traditional values down, but not out

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