Given the symbolic and electoral successes of pro-lifers in the past few years, Democratic politicians and consultants have been openly discussing ways in which to appeal to more pro-life voters. They have been in a particular bind, since their decade-long defense of partial-birth abortion has painted the Democratic Party as radically extreme on the abortion issue. If you are not against delivering 9-month-old unborn babies feet first and then sucking their brains out before delivering the head, what are you against? Just as Democrats have been holding meetings, writing articles, and conducting surveys on how to seem less anti-religion, so they have done the same on seeming less anti-life.
Democratic senators who wish to appear more moderate on abortion—particularly those from moderate or conservative states—had a great opportunity recently to demonstrate their reasonableness on the issue. Many of them voted for the Child Custody Protection Act (S 403), which forbids adults to take a minor girl across state lines for an abortion without the permission of one of her parents, though only if the state in which she resides has a parental consent or notification law in the first place. How could anyone oppose this common-sense measure that maintains parental authority and responsibility while helping states enforce their own laws? Thirty-four senators did, and all but five were Democrats. However, 65 senators voted for the measure, including 14 Democrats.
That vote would mean Democrats had a good example of a little moderation within their party on the question of abortion, if it weren’t for Democrats’ other concern. Although they want to be seen as more pro-life, they also need to satisfy their base and their special interest groups, which are rabidly, feverishly, even religiously pro-abortion. Democrats can’t survive without the abortion-as-sacrament crowd, yet the polls tell them they are the minority partly because of their rabid pro-abortion politics, so what to do?
Taking a leaf from Sen. John Kerry’s playbook, the Senate Democrats decided to be for the bill before they took against it. After the Senate passed the Child Custody Protection Act by the large majority of 65 to 34 on July 25, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.) objected to the routine request to appoint conferees to reconcile the Senate version of the bill with the House’s.
When the House and the Senate pass different versions of the same bill, a House-Senate conference is appointed to iron out the differences. This new, compromise bill is then voted on by both houses. Conferees are appointed all the time without controversy, and the practice itself dates back to the beginning of the Republic.
What is not routine was Durbin’s objection, which was a surprise procedural maneuver that could doom the Child Custody Protection Act’s passage. Clearly, Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, could not have taken this unprecedented action without the support of his party. And, in fact, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.), the No. 1 Democrat in the Senate and a supposed moderate on abortion who voted for the bill, raised the same objection the next time the Senate tried to pass a motion to appoint conferees, confirming that the Senate Democratic leadership is united behind this tactic.
The Democrats claim they want to ensure that the Senate version of the bill is the one that finally passes Congress. The Senate version contains an amendment from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) punishing anyone who commits incest with a minor and then transports her across state lines for an abortion. The amendment was non-controversial—it passed 98 to 0–and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) has promised to reject any bill coming from the House-Senate conference that does not include Boxer’s amendment. Yet, the Senate Democrats continue to block the bill, with Reid objecting to the appointing of conferees this week just before the Senate left Washington for its traditional August recess.
What is going on? Simple: Moderate Senate Democrats want the credit among the electorate for voting for a popular pro-life measure, and the national Democratic Party wants the credit among its special interest groups for dooming the same measure via procedural technicalities. The Dems may also dislike a provision in the House bill that requires an abortionist to contact a parent if a minor girl comes to him from out-of-state, though preservation of the Boxer amendment is their publicly given reason. Frist may try to get the Senate to appoint conferees without Reid’s permission—which is possible but unusual—or he may decide not to spend precious Senate floor time on this fight with an election looming. It is unlikely that this procedural tactic to force the Senate bill through Congress will succeed, since House leaders do not want to give in to such blackmail—and neither does Frist.
Sen. John Ensign (R.), from Reid’s home state of Nevada and primary sponsor of the Child Custody Protection Act in the Senate, says, “We worked together in a bipartisan fashion to amend the bill and get it approved and, now that it has been approved, some Democrats are undermining the will of the Senate and the American people by unfairly blocking it. It is underhanded and disingenuous, and it needs to stop now.”
Is this bill needed? It certainly is. Parental involvement laws reduce the abortion rate among minors, as Professor Michael New of the University of Alabama concluded in a July 18, 2006 Heritage Foundation study. After parental involvement laws were passed in five states, the abortion rate for girls 13-17 declined by 30.5% while it declined by only 18.6% in other states (abortions have been trending down generally in recent years).
Professor Teresa Stanton Collett of the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota testified before Congress about studies concerning underage abortions. “In addition to improving the medical care received by young girls dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, parental notification will provide increased protection against sexual exploitation of minors by adult men,” she said. “National studies reveal ‘[a]lmost two thirds of adolescent mothers have partners older than 20 years of age.’ In a study of over 46,000 pregnancies by school-age girls in California, researchers found that ‘71%, or over 33,000, were fathered by adult post-high-school men whose mean age was 22.6 years, an average of 5 years older than the mothers. . . . Even among junior high school mothers aged 15 or younger, most births are fathered by adult men 6-7 years their senior. Men aged 25 or older father more births among California school-age girls than do boys under age 18.’ Other studies have found that most teenage pregnancies are the result of predatory practices by men who are substantially older.”
Clandestine abortions are helping these men cover up their crimes. “A survey of 1,500 unmarried minors having abortions revealed that among minors who reported that neither parent knew of the abortion, 89% said that a boyfriend was involved in deciding or arranging the abortion (and 93% of those 15 and under said that a boyfriend was involved),” said Collett in prepared testimony. “Further, 76% indicated that a boyfriend helped pay the expenses of the abortion. Clearly, a number of young girls who obtained abortions without their parents’ knowledge were encouraged to do so by a sexual partner who could be charged with statutory rape. Secret abortions do nothing to expose these men’s wrongful conduct.”
That, of course, doesn’t matter to Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.) or to the national pro-abortion groups who oppose this bill, or to the Senate Democratic leadership. Hopefully, pro-life Americans will see through this shady attempt to seem more moderate on abortion while refusing to allow action. They should certainly insist that Frist, Reid, and their colleagues get this bill passed into law when Congress returns to session after Labor Day.