It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
In the aftermath of the Democratic takeover of Congress-amidst the over promising that often accompanies newly acquired power-the Democratic Party mantra was: Voters are tired of government paralyzed by bitter partisanship. We Democrats must recommit to uniting the American people around policies born of compromise and representative of mainstream values.
The Democrats’ newfound forbearance, we were led to believe, extended all the way to that most contentious of issues: abortion. New Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "There are few more divisive issues in America today than abortion, but there is an opportunity to find common ground if we are willing to join together and seize it." A New York Times headline declared, "Democrats seek the middle on social issues," while the Washington Post announced, "Democrats seek to avert abortion clashes."
Even National Abortion Rights Action League President Nancy Keenan seemed to be overcome by a spirit of conciliation, saying: "You’re going to see a change in the tone of the debate, and a move toward more solutions, rather than the divisiveness. …What we’re going to see in this Congress is some problem-solving."
So, led by Third Way, a moderate Democratic policy group that attempts to reach out to what it calls "abortion grays," the nearly two-thirds of the electorate with mixed views on abortion, a fresh Democratic legislative agenda was set. Among the Democrats’ proposed "solutions" were the Prevention First Act, which seeks to reduce the number of
abortions by expanding access to birth control and to provide economic support to new parents; proposals to extend adoption tax credits; and a measure to close health insurance loop holes that limit prenatal care.
It was a clever strategy. By shifting their attention away from the prickly issue of abortion and refocusing on issues that enjoy bipartisan support, Democrats could avoid alienating the small but powerful abortion lobby and simultaneously reach out to the growing share of
religious and socially conservative voters.
Correction: It would have been a clever strategy, if the Democrats had actually implemented it.
Alas, however, it was not to be. For after just a few months of rhetorical overtures to the pro-life community, congressional Democrats have changed their tune and are attempting to overturn an important pro-life policy that prevents tax dollars from being used to export
abortion overseas. In June, House Democrats inserted language into the State Department/Foreign Operations Appropriations bill that would effectively rescind the Mexico City policy, a long-standing administrative rule that bars international family planning services from performing or promoting abortions if they receive federal funds.
President Ronald Reagan first introduced the policy in 1984 at the United Nations International Conference on Population in Mexico City. There, member nations urged governments to take appropriate steps "to help women avoid abortion, which in no case should be promoted as a method of family planning, and whenever possible, provide for the humane treatment and counseling of women who have had recourse to abortion."
Although it is difficult to know how many lives have been saved by the Mexico City policy, its importance to both sides of the abortion debate is evidenced by the fact that President Bill Clinton signed to overturn the policy on his first day in office, and President George W. Bush reinstated it on his first day.
As congressional Democrats sought to overturn the Mexico City policy, pro-life conservatives, led by Congressmen Chris Smith (R.-N.J.) and Bart Stupak(D.-Mich.), drafted an amendment to save it. Unfortunately, the pro-life amendment was defeated in the House of Representatives by a 205-218 vote. The Senate version of the bill has been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and will soon be voted on by the full Senate.
The good news is that attempts by Congressional liberals to rescind the Mexico City policy will fail in the short-term. President Bush recently reiterated his pledge to veto "any legislation that weakens current federal policies and laws on abortion," and a veto sustaining number (just over one-third) of pro-life congressmen in both the House of
Representatives and the Senate have signed a letter to the president promising to vote to sustain his veto.
The bad news is that for all their chatter about "changes in tone" and finding "common ground," liberals have once again proved that, when the time comes to turn talk into action, they will always revert back to the most extreme policy positions on abortion.
And this should be cause for concern to pro-lifers as they look ahead to a presidential election in which the Democratic nominee, no matter who he or she is, will no doubt support overturning this life-saving policy.