It is too easy to equate Republican losses in the mid-term elections with a defeat for pro-life and other socially conservative causes. Easy, but wrong. It would also be easy to focus on the challenges pro-lifers face. But that would ignore the opportunities that present themselves in the election’s aftermath.

First, the pro-life cause’s fortunes may rise and fall with the success and failure of the Republican Party as a matter of political fact, but their interests are not synonymous. Furthermore, while Republicans lost, many of those who went down to defeat were from the “moderate” (read: pro-abortion) wing of the party. Add onto that fact this one: many Democrats are attempting to sound pro-life, or at least less ardently pro-abortion. All this augurs well for the U.S. pro-life movement, as the partisan realignment that may be taking place does not indicates a turning away from pro-life initiatives.

Not that everyone sees it that way. After losing control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, pro-abortion Republican Senator Arlen Spector (Penn.) said that the election results represented a “seismic earthquake” and called upon the party to become “a lot more progressive and a lot less ideological.” Former Republican majority leader Dick Armey blamed the party’s religious right base for the GOP defeat. Yet, as Focus on the Family’s Dr. James Dobson has noted, without the values voters of 2004, John Kerry would be president and the Democrats would have gained control of Congress two years earlier. Dobson said: “When Republicans act like Democrats they lose and when Democrats act like Republicans, they win. And therein lies the lesson of ’06.” Many of the defeated Republicans were notable “moderates” within the party – not particularly socially (or fiscally) conservative, including Senator Lincoln Chafee (R.I.) and Rep. Nancy Johnson (Conn.).

Dobson could have added that when Democrats add like Republicans, they win. Senator Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) has given lip service to reducing abortion and the party recruited a number of socially conservative candidates to run in 2006. Gary L. Bauer, chair of the Campaign for Working Families, said of the Democrats that, “In order to win, they ran moderate candidates, many of whom embraced conservative values, such as right to life and the sanctity of traditional marriage.” Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, made a similar observation: “The Democrats did not (and could not) gain any control in Congress by opposing the pro-life position, but rather, by having enough candidates who claimed to embrace it,” such as Bob Casey Jr.

Casey is the son of the late Pennsylvania governor Robert Casey, a staunchly pro-life politician forbidden from speaking at the 1992 Democratic convention. Casey is not as pro-life as his father and supports same-sex “marriage” and special protection for homosexuals under hate crime laws, but is perceived as being a socially conservative alternative to Senator Rick Santorum.

Santorum had been a leading social conservative voice on Capitol Hill (almost single-handedly forcing the partial-birth abortion issue upon the national stage in the 1990s), but his closeness to the president and support for the war in Iraq made him vulnerable. Casey was recruited because the party did not think it had much of a chance to beat Santorum in the socially conservative industrial state without a pro-life candidate.

Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer, president of Human Life International, noted that several of the defeated “pro-life” Republican senators had sent mixed signals. Senator George Allen in Virginia has noted that he holds stock in Barr Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of the abortafacient “morning-after” pill, Plan B. Jim Talent in Missouri refused to come out against Amendment 2, the cloning initiative that voters also considered on Nov. 7.

With Republicans losing control of the Senate, the pro-life movement is worried specifically about several future presidential appointments. American UN ambassador John Bolton must be re-nominated and confirmed if he is to continue beyond Dec. 31. He has worked hard to reform the international organization, but Democrats have vowed to scuttle his nomination and are insisting more “moderate” voices be appointed.

Also, with liberal pro-abortion Justice John Paul Stevens expecting to retire within the next year or so, there will be a battle over the next Supreme Court appointment. Justice committee Democrats will likely prevent any judge opposed to the legally flawed 1973 Roe v. Wade decision (which legalized abortion on demand) from even receiving a vote on the Senate floor. Legal analysts say the court is one justice away from overturning Roe, but that is less likely now that the Senate is in the Democrats’ hands.

There were numerous ballot initiatives. Seven state-approved bans on same-sex “marriage” (in Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin) added to those in 27 other states. Five of those states’ constitutional amendments also ban homosexual civil unions. However, for the first time, voters voted down a constitutional amendment protecting marriage, with 51 per cent of Arizona voters voting against a ban on same-sex “marriage.”

Also, in Colorado, a second ballot issue which sought to legalize domestic partnerships giving homosexual couples the privileges of marriage failed.

Pro-lifers were disappointed that South Dakota voters defeated a comprehensive abortion ban. Earlier this year, the state legislature passed a bill banning abortion, but abortion advocates successfully petitioned to have the law face a referendum. The vote was close, 55-45 per cent, but alas, the pro-abortion side won.

In the most closely watched hot-button issue of the election, Missouri citizens voted narrowly, 51-49 per cent, for Amendment 2, billed as an embryonic stem cell bill that would actually permit human cloning through somatic cell nuclear transfer. Actor Michael J. Fox, who has Alzheimer’s, starred in a commerical urging Amendment 2’s passage. This was countered by a pro-life ad featuring Passion of the Christ star Jim Caviezel, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jeff Suppan and actress Patricia Heaton.

California and Oregon voters defeated parental notification initiatives, 54-46 per cent. In California, a coalition of pro-abortion groups spent $3.1 million on a scare campaign against the ballot initiative.  Currently, 15 states have parental notification laws, while another 19 have laws requiring parental consent for abortion.