American Life League uneasy about how Tommy Thompson

will handle fetal experimentation

Media reports in the first weeks of the new Bush administration suggest that President Bush is committed to a limited pro-life agenda. This is getting a mixed reaction from American pro-life groups.

Bush signed an executive order re-instating the so-called Mexico City Policy, suggested Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson review regulations governing research which destroys embryos, and had Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) deliver a statement calling for a culture of life at the March for Life commemorating the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Scott Weinberg, spokesman for American Life League (ALL), told The Interim that pro-lifers should beware of secular media reports that play up Bush’s pro-life credentials, lulling activists and voters alike to believe that he is committed to protecting all human life to a degree he has yet to match in action.

But Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, told The Interim Bush has done what he had promised to do and will work to accomplish what is legally and politically possible.

The most significant early move was re-instating the Mexico City Policy (so-called because Ronald Reagan first announced it while attending the Mexico City population conference in 1984), which prohibits international family planning agencies that receive U.S. aid from counselling or providing abortions overseas, and from lobbying for the liberalization of abortion laws, even if such activities are funded from other sources. Overturning this policy was one of President Bill Clinton’s first prerogatives in 1993. In issuing the executive memorandum to the Agency for International Development, Bush said, “It is my conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote abortion, either here or abroad.”

Johnson said the policy has two benefits. First, it ensures that “militantly pro-abortion groups, such as Planned Parenthood, are no longer funded.” Second, “those weakly committed to abortion will divest themselves of such actions, therefore there is a cleansing effect.”

Weinberg said the restoration of the Mexico City Policy does not go far enough because it keeps in place $425 million for family planning that includes chemical abortions (including the common birth control pill, which is sometimes abortifacient).

Most pro-lifers agree that the next big front for the abortion battle will be stem-cell research and the resulting destruction of embryos. The NRLC said the issue is more complex than the media says it is, noting that there is fetal tissue research on cadaveric sources which only an act of Congress can change and federal government-supported research that kill human embryos. Johnson said the administration will review the legality of the Clinton administration’s announcement allowing such funding. The administration is “doing what is allowed by law and reviewing the legality of using federal funds for embryo destructive research.”

Weinberg has little confidence the review will accomplish, much considering Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson will lead it. As governor of Wisconsin Thompson praised and funded the work of fetal-tissue researchers.

During confirmation hearings, Thompson also made a vague promise to review safety concerns about RU-486 that have arisen since the abortion-pill was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last September.

Pro-lifers were initially excited about the appointment of John Ashcroft as Attorney General, but he faced a hostile confirmation hearing and under the pressures of scrutiny by pro-abortion Democrats used some unfortunate phraseology, calling abortion a “health service” and declaring Roe “settled.”

Both Weinberg and Johnson are confident Ashcroft has not abandoned his pro-life principles. Johnson said Ashcroft will uphold the law, which means not using the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) to prohibit the constitutionally protected free speech rights of sidewalk counselors. Weinberg said Ashcroft will end the harassment of pro-lifers and not use FACE to silence pro-lifers as the Clinton administration did with its “tyrannical enforcement under … an unjust law.”

Weinberg said he hoped Ashcroft would use his position as chief prosecutor to look at the abortion industry and their violations of health and consent regulations.

On whether the administration would seek to overturn Roe, there have been mixed signals.

During his confirmation hearings, Ashcroft said he accepted “Roe and Casey as the settled law of the land …. I will follow the law.” He also said, “I don’t think it’s the agenda of the President-elect of the United States to seek an opportunity to overturn Roe.” On NBC’sToday show, Jan. 19, Laura Bush said she did not think Roe should be overturned. But later, President Bush told Fox News that he would be willing to try to overturn Roe given the right case.

Johnson wouldn’t comment on Mrs. Bush’s comments but said there is little use trying to overturn Roe with the current composition of the Court. He said Bush is committed to appointing Supreme Court justices unlikely to read abortion rights into the constitution. He also said the administration has made clear that the decision to have the Court review previous decisions will be made by Bush.

Weinberg said the First Lady’s comments are “troubling” because she might try to influence the president’s abortion agenda. He said Bush already seems tentative on life issues when “what abortion needs now is bold actions.” He characterized Bush’s statements and actions as “grandstanding” by affecting the mere margins of the abortion issue.