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Abortion Foes Have High Hopes for New Congress -- and for 2012

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As abortion opponents prepare for their annual March for Life on the Mall in Washington on Monday, pro-life activists are revitalized by the prospect of a Republican-dominated House they view as friendlier to their agenda than at any time since the Jan. 22, 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

For example, new House leader John Boehner has said he wants to be "the most pro-life speaker ever" and New Jersey Republican Chris Smith, co-chair of the Congressional Pro-life Caucus, called this "the arguably most pro-life House ever," a judgment with which many abortion opponents concur.

And abortion foes can already point to a phalanx of bills introduced this past week, with more expected. The bills include one by Smith to permanently bar taxpayer dollars from funding abortion in any federal appropriation, a measure to enact stronger conscience clause provisions for health care workers, and a proposal to deny federal funding to Planned Parenthood.

There are also signs that the federal judiciary is more receptive than ever to supporting laws that restrict abortion, and various states are enacting measures -- mandating ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, for example -- that hold out hope for decreasing the abortion rate, which is inching up after a three-decade decline.

Yet as enthusiastic as pro-lifers are -- and hope springs eternal at the start of every new Congress -- they also face sobering political realities: While the House has a comfortable Republican majority, Democrats still hold the Senate, and President Obama -- with his veto power -- is in the White House and enjoying a bump in his approval ratings.

So what can pro-lifers really expect in the next two years, and how nervous should pro-choice activists be? The short answer is that the coming battles on Capitol Hill will largely be about shaping perceptions ahead of the 2012 vote -- in a word, politics. And that's not necessarily a bad thing for abortion opponents.

"We're going to go forward hopefully in trying to pass everything -- except we live in the real world," said Tom McClusky of FRC Action, the legislative arm for the Family Research Council. "A lot of it" -- the next two years -- "is to help us to show the American people where people in the Senate are and where the president is on these issues."

McClusky also argued that bringing a range of anti-abortion bills to the House floor in the coming months would do two things: It would demonstrate to members that these arguments are not going away and that tedious annual disputes over taxpayer funding, for example, could be eliminated by codifying the ban in the Smith bill. And, two, the debates would get members used to voting for these types of bills in anticipation of further Republican gains in 2012.

"Then as we go forward and look at hopefully a more conservative Senate and a more conservative person in the White House, the House knows their role because hopefully they've been doing it for a couple of years," he said.

Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, agreed that a significant part of the coming congressional session will be about establishing distinctions in voters' minds ahead of November 2012.

"The next two years may very well highlight the great divergence between some of President Obama's rhetoric on abortion-related issues and his actual policy history," Johnson said. Obama has frequently said he wants to make abortion rare and to find common ground on the issue. "I think at the least the hollowness of much of his rhetoric is going to be clear to a lot more people by the end of this Congress."

But, Johnson added, "I wouldn't accept the premise that we won't necessarily be able to make any affirmative progress" legislatively.

He noted that pro-lifers were able to pass a number of agenda items when Bill Clinton was president, such as a ban on abortions at U.S. military facilities and a ban on human embryo research, both of which Clinton signed off on despite his opposition because they were part of other legislation that he supported.

A bill to defund Planned Parenthood, introduced by Indiana Republican Mike Pence, who is increasingly mentioned as a GOP presidential hopeful for 2012, is the kind of thing that could be inserted into a larger appropriations bill, for instance. If it reached Obama's desk that would then create a political dilemma for the president, who relies heavily on pro-choice voters for support.

Moreover, promoting anti-abortion policies as budget-cutting measures is smart politics at a time when the public is looking to reduce deficits and cut spending. That's how New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another rising Republican star, presented it when he slashed $7.5 million in state funding for Planned Parenthood in the Garden State.

"His popularity was hurt more by a snowstorm than by the Planned Parenthood cut," said McClusky.

(While Christie has personally donated to Planned Parenthood and supports Roe v. Wade, he has become a hero to many in the conservative movement.)

Still, the push to cut spending could also expose some rifts within the pro-life camp.

The Catholic bishops, for example, are leading players in the fight against abortion but they do not want health care reform repealed, as many conservative pro-life lobbies do. Rather, they want to plug what they say are funding streams in the reform law for abortion providers (an argument disputed by health care experts) and would push to make government-backed health coverage "universal" and available to all. The bishops also support a range of social safety net policies.

"[W]e will encourage one and all to seek common ground, reducing the number of abortions by providing compassionate and morally sound care for pregnant women and their unborn children," New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote in a January 14 letter to each member of Congress outlining the hierarchy's priorities.

Even a reliably conservative voice like Wall Street Journal columnist William McGurn asked whether New York City's eye-opening 41 percent abortion rate -- which Archbishop Dolan and other religious leaders said they want to reduce with pragmatic efforts rather than focusing solely on legal bans -- was in part because "many pregnant women are not getting the social help and encouragement they need to have their babies?"

But that's not the approach leading pro-life groups have traditionally taken.

"You want [the federal government] to encourage a strong family unit, except it's not the government's role to provide financial support for such a thing," as McClusky put it. "The best role government can play is to get out of the way."

Another note of caution was sounded by Russell Shaw, a conservative Catholic writer and former spokesman for the U.S. bishops, who delivered a sobering perspective as he reflected on the battles over abortion rights that have consumed so much political energy since Roe, and with little real movement.

"The polling data show that a majority of Americans don't support the virtually unlimited access to abortion that now exists. Yet people who are opposed to abortion, at least tepidly, regularly vote for pro-choice candidates," Shaw wrote in a January 18 column for Patheos, a popular religion portal. "The result is this prolife/pro-choice seesaw. Up and down -- it's been that way for thirty-eight years."

To Shaw, the relative stalemate "merely underlines the magnitude of the task of education and persuasion facing the pro-life community," a task that is not likely to be accomplished in this Congress or even if the 2012 election goes the way conservatives would like.

But pro-life activists say they are encouraged, and have reason to be beyond their prospects in the House. Surveys show opposition to legal abortion remains strong and may even be growing, and they can point to any number of advances at the state level -- advances that worry the pro-choice community as much as they hearten pro-lifers.

NARAL Pro-Choice America estimated that the number of anti-abortion governors rose from 21 to 29 after the November election, and the number of states with governments where the governor and the majority legislature are both considered anti-abortion increased from 10 to 15.

"Our state affiliates are definitely expecting to be in for the fight of their lives," Donna Crane, policy director for NARAL, told Politico last month.

Pro-life activists hope to see more states pass laws like the one adopted by Oklahoma last year requiring patients to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before getting an abortion. And Nebraska last year passed a ban on abortions after 20 weeks based on the concept that the fetus can feel pain at that stage.

All of that ferment could well trickle up to the congressional level, or at least pro-life activists hope so.

"We're going to roll up our sleeves and do our best to advance these measures," said NRLC's Johnson. "But at the very least there will be more clarity on where our leaders stand on some of these issues at the end of this Congress."

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I do not believe that requiring a sonogram will save one child from being aborted. It seems just another self-righteous ploy which says "we are right and you are wrong" and we want to bug you as much as possible. Much research has been done which shows how we can reduce the number of abortions and it has to do with accessable birth control clinics, reducing child molestation and poverty etc. This pending legislation is just another form of bullying from the religious right.

March 03 2011 at 11:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Approximately three weeks after fertilization, the embryo begins taking on a human shape. A line of cells form; eventually these cells will become become the spinal cord and brain. Major blood vessels form around day 17 and the heart begins to pump blood through the vessels at around day 20. The embryo will enter the fetal stage of development at week eight of pregnancy.

Around week eight, the embryo is now called a fetus. The lungs, brain, kidneys and liver are beginning to function and the fetus has distinct fingerprints. According to Discovery Health, the fetus will measure about three inches long and weigh approximately an ounce at 12 weeks gestation. During this stage of development, the external sex organs become visible on an ultrasound

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February 10 2011 at 10:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why are these Representatives wasting their time on an abortion debate? They campaigned on creating jobs and balancing the federal budget. They should work on the problems that they were elected to solve. America has economic problems and abortion has nothing to do with.

February 10 2011 at 2:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to pnn1000's comment

When it comes to my tax dollars, it sure does!

February 10 2011 at 10:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why isn't male reproduction a political issue? Why can't women demand men not get vasectomies, which prevents the production of children? Why do we women allow men to use our bodies for political purposes? Let's stop vasectomies, and make adultery a jailable offense. This way men must stay with whome they marry until death, and any man or woman caught having an extramarital affair goes to prison. Men have been able to dump their wives for the so called trophy wife, better known as a legally paid prostitute and desert their wives causing them in many cases to be impoverished. If I can't decided what I want for my life, why should a man? I don't tell him what to do with his penis. Also, this is so hypocritical to force women to have children when they relaize economicaly they can't afford them, only to have the GOP cut welfare benefits for all those babies that are forced to be born. They can't have it both ways. I hear pro-lifers and the GOP condemning abortion, but when somebody has to pay for these babies, they also squawk and bitch about how these babies aredraining the welfare system. The GOP are nothing more than immoral snakes who preach one thing and do another. Yet, it is always a Repubican politicians caught in a sex or gay scandal. Too funny! Hypocrites!

February 10 2011 at 10:22 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

What I don't understand is, if you believe in God and the Bible, you know even God gives people free will, the ability to choose their path in life, so why do these pro-lifers think they have a right to take away a God given right to choose... If you don't believe in abortions, don't have one... but let people choose what they think is right for themselves..This isn't about prolife or caring about an unborn fetus, its about "I'm miserable because I'm forced by my own belief system, to have a kid I don't want so everyone else should be miserable too..." That's it, plain and simple... If these people are so pro life, rather than waste time worrying about who is having an abortion, they would instead spend all this free time they have on people who are alive and facing the death penalty, or kids who are born around the world and being abused, raped, sold into prostitution... they would champion the causes of people who are alive and who are told they can't marry the person they love because they are the same sex... now those should be pro life issues...

Here's some more pro life issues to concern yourselves with... how about locking up all these men who rape their daughters, nieces, and even boys... How about tracking down those fathers who refuse to take care of their kids... tackle poverty and it's causes... there are so many more issues that afect the living -- worrying about a woman making a decision to abort a fetus should be the least of your concerns if you are "pro life" -- that's just an excuse to make sure everyone else is as miserable as you are with your own self-loathing decision to have a child you don't want... I would also add that they are just compounding the problems in this world rather than helping...

February 10 2011 at 8:20 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Women of the USA unite. This is scary stuff. Mandating an ultrasound prior to an abortion. I think not. I will do everything in my power after reading this to ensure that my daughters have the same reproductive rights as I had. This is between a women and her doctor

February 10 2011 at 4:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to csienk1014's comment

So you decide who lives and who dies??? This is your right?

February 10 2011 at 10:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Such controversy over something that is a woman's decision alone. I don't like the idea of abortion but don't pretend to know what is right for a woman to do to her body. She has the right to decide the fate of her child not the law. Do I want woman to kill developing children in their body? No. But without the right to do it what are the options? Back alley abortions done by butchers? Forced delivery to full term that ends in abuse, poverty, drug abuse to damage the child, orphanages full of unwanted children. Really , unless the people that oppose abortions are ready to adopt all those kids do they think abstinence will work? don't they object to birth control or will they sterilize the first time offenders? Where the heck are we going with outlawing abortions?

February 09 2011 at 9:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Recently there was a story about a woman who used to manage an abortion clinic, and she had written a book about her experience. During an abortion while looking at an ultrasound she saw for herself the fetus literally balling it's body up and trying to escape the suction... her view on abortion shifted. She Quit after working for Planned Parenthood for over 18 years. Many Conservatives know that only telling your teenagers to resist temptation for some is like talking to a brick wall. Talk to your spouse, or trusted family member and for some birth control is an option even though "Abstaining Is Best, 100%, and Morally in line with many religious teachings. Next if women are to have a REAL choice, allow them to see the development of the fetus and have one week to decide. Some may go through with it, but will not be ignorant to the facts to their child's development. Some will choose to give those children a chance at life. That Is Truly A Beautiful Choice based on Biological facts rather than Lies (it's only tissue) for profit.

February 05 2011 at 6:24 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Now is the time to invest in coat hanger and cleansing fluid manufacturers. Those back alleys will be in full use once the holier then thou types have their way!

February 04 2011 at 3:56 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mbrahms26's comment

Really not so. The so-called back alley abortionists really became the main street abortionists once Roe was ruled on. They are all the same sleeze balls. Most of the abortionists I know have lost all hospital priveleges because they either killed one too many mothers, or the nearby hospital ER's were tired of trying to patch up women who were maimed during so-called 'safe, legal procedure'. Incidental;ly, with only 2 exceptions, the abortionists I know got into the grisly trade simply for the money.
Roe will eventually be overturned, as soon as the right case goes before the SC. The 'question' will then go back to the states and most state laws will prohibit murder in the womb. The pro-life focus will then turn on the states that do permit infanticide.That Roe was even decided the way it was is a disgrace. The case was based upon a lie told by the lawyers representing "Roe", whose real name is Norma McCorvey, a friend. Norma is now strongly pro-life and wrote a good book entitled "Won by Love' in which she describes how she came to respect human life. This book might start your education on the way to understanding how wrong abortion is.

February 04 2011 at 5:03 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

johmich5: Evidently poverty is all you see. These babies are not being born into JUST POVERTY! They are being born into violent, crazy, drug filled worlds where they suffer abuse, neglect, torture, pain, and live lives of unimaginable crulety. I cannot believe you would prefer these babies to live such lives than to never be born. They are raped, cut, starved, and have no chance to ever know or understand what being human is about. If you abortion foes want to fight for the babies, then fight to find a way to change the laws that say any drug addict or irresponsible teenager can have a child.

February 03 2011 at 4:35 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to lisac3333's comment

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