Speakers and pro-life activists attending the March for Life last week repeatedly indicated that they hoped that an all-Republican Congress working with a Republican President could make real legislative progress on their issue this year. They may just get it.
After Bush’s speech to the March (see coverbox story), White House political adviser Karl Rove told the Associated Press, "I think the practical and the possible is a ban on a particularly gruesome procedure, partial-birth abortion. There is a strong desire, certainly among House Republicans. . . to deal with cloning. Those are the immediate tasks at hand."
According to congressional sources and pro-life activists, the upcoming congressional session will likely see battle on six different pro-life fronts.
In the last session, the House passed the first five pieces of legislation and is expected to do so again:
Partial-Birth Abortion Ban: The Senate should pass it this year since there are 62 senators who have voted for it in the past or who have indicated support for it in their campaigns. Without at least 60 votes, a Democratic filibuster could kill the bill. A recent Gallup Poll said 70% of Americans support a ban.
Human Cloning Ban: Vote counters say there are now 44 votes in the Senate for the complete and permanent cloning ban the President wants. Success in getting the other six votes necessary for passage (barring a Democratic filibuster) may depend on how hard the President and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) fight for the bill.
Unborn Victims of Violence Act: The bill would make it a separate offense for injuring an unborn child during an attack on his mother, thus establishing a legal principle of protection for unborn children. Chances in the Senate are also uncertain for this bill. "At least these issues will be debated in the light of day," said Douglas Johnson of National Right to Life.
Child Custody Protection Act: This bill would make it illegal to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion without her parents’ permission. The issue’s popularity with the public may prod the Senate to pass the bill. The Gallup Poll said 73% favor parental consent for minors’ abortions. "This is the sort of issue that is hard for them to vote against," said a congressional staffer.
Abortion Non-Discrimination Act: The bill would protect hospitals, insurance companies, and other health care providers who forbid doctors to perform abortions in their facilities. The protection would include guaranteeing their federal funding even if they choose pro-life policies. Some pro-abortion senators may vote for this bill on the grounds of freedom of conscience.
Funding: Pro-life Republicans will have to fend off challenges to Bush’s Mexico City policy, which forbids money for organizations that lobby for pro-abortion laws overseas, and to the President’s power to withhold money from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). UNFPA assists the People’s Republic of China’s family planning program that makes use of coercive abortions. House pro-lifers last time around preserved the President’s discretion to withhold funding for UNFPA (which Bush did), but failed to zero out UNFPA’s funding legislatively.
The battle, led by Rep. David Vitter (R.-La.), to strip funding for family planning programs from Title X is up in the air. Technically, the money in this section goes to contraception only, but pro-lifers argue that this frees up grantees’ funds for abortion since money is fungible. The Senate will likely insist on the money, and the Republican House has failed to zero out the funding in the past. "We did pick up a few more seats in the House, so we are stronger there than before," Johnson said.