Some leaders adopting a wait-and-see approach

as cabinet nominees face confirmation

After a long campaign and close election, Republican George W. Bush was announced the winner of the U.S. presidential race. While Bush was preferable in comparison to Democrat Al Gore, the reaction of pro-lifers to Bush’s victory has been mixed.

Groups such as the National Right to Life Committee and Family Research Council have expressed their satisfaction with the Bush win and his announcement of cabinet picks while the American Life League wants to take a wait-and-see approach.

Richard Lessner, executive director of American Renewal, the legislative arm of the FRC, told The Interim pro-lifers should be happy with the Bush administration and that until Bush proves he is not committed to pro-life action, he deserves support. “He seems to be saying what he does from a deeply held conviction about the sanctity of life,” Lessner said.

During the campaign Gore and pro-abortion groups attacked Bush over his pro-life stance which he reiterated unapologetically.

But ALL President Judie Brown told The Interim Bush’s pro-life position was a result of “political pragmatism.” She says she wants to see actions, not words.

So far, Bush’s words have been fairly strong: he promised to appoint judges like pro-life Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, to oppose federal funding of embryonic research and sign a partial-birth abortion ban.

But the first signals Bush sent about the direction of his administration was with his cabinet appointments which included a mix of pro-life and pro-abortion nominees.

Brown said while Bush claims he is pro-life, “he has yet to prove it.” She objected to Bush’s naming New Jersey’s pro-abortion Governor Christie Todd Whitman as chief of the Environmental Protection Agency and Colin Powell as Secretary of State as examples of concern, and said Whitman will push “a pro-population control agenda” at the EPA, where she will “put animals ahead of people.”

Lessner said the appointments “are better than expected” with “good pro-life people in key positions,” and he pointed to Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson at Health and Human Services and former Missouri Senator John Ashcroft as Attorney-General.

The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League said the appointment of Thompson to HHS indicates Bush wants to “do away with a woman’s right to choose.” Planned Parenthood also expressed concerns about funding family planning programs – Thompson is also expected to maintain current HHS rules regarding the funding of family planning programs that include abortion.

Both the Family Research Council and the National Right to Life Committee praised the Thompson appointment. According to the FRC, Thompson has a solid “track record of achievement” on life issues. As governor he signed pro-life bills on parental notification, women’s right-to-know, unborn victims of violence and a partial-birth abortion ban (with health-of-the-mother exceptions). He also supported a 24-hour waiting period, legislation to prevent abortion coverage in insurance plans and recognized First Amendment rights of pro-life demonstrators at abortion facilities.

But not all pro-lifers were happy with the appointment. Brown said Thompson has praised the fetal tissue work of researchers at the University of Wisconsin. She also said the PBA ban had a health-of-the-mother exception that effectively makes the ban useless. “He has done little to protect [the right to life] from the moment of conception,” she concluded.

Lessner told The Interim Thompson “has a mixed record on stem cell research.” He added that Thompson does not have “clearly defined views on the subject” so that pro-lifers “could further educate him and work with him on the issue. I’m hopeful we can bring him around.”

A more positive signal is the naming of Ashcroft as Attorney-General, a move that outraged pro-abortionists and delighted pro-lifers. Ashcroft will advise Bush on judicial appointments and Lessner said there is no doubt the AG-designate will argue for pro-life judges. Both as a governor and senator Ashcroft had not only a pro-life voting record but has worked actively and spoken passionately about life issues.

Pro-abortion Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has raised concerns on behalf of pro-abortionists that Ashcroft would not enforce federal laws restricting free speech for pro-life advocates at abortion facilities. Lessner said Ashcroft will take an oath to uphold the law including the eight-foot buffer zones against pro-lifers but he added that if legislation were introduced to overturn such laws, “Ashcroft would present the constitutional case for the free speech” of pro-lifers.

Lessner added that the abuse of RICO laws in harassing pro-lifers in civil suits (such as the case of NOW vs. Joe Scheidler) would not be affected by the Ashcroft appointment, but that it is now unimaginable that the federal government would become involved in any such suit (such as filing an amicus brief on behalf of pro-abortionists).

One appointment that raised controversy on the pro-life side was Powell as Secretary of State. Powell, who supports abortion, could counsel Bush to backtrack on his commitment to oppose U.S. funding of international family planning schemes that include abortion. Brown expressed concern that Powell would undo the efforts of Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) to reduce or eliminate such funding.

However, an article by Fred Barnes in the January 1, 2001 Weekly Standard reported Bush raised abortion as an issue when he first talked to Powell about the Secretary of State position, making clear that the pro-abortion Powell would have to follow the administration’s lead, including re-instituting the so-called Mexico City policy. Barnes also reports Bush also seems eager to replace Julia Taft, a pro-abortion Republican who served as Clinton’s Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration.

Brown urged Bush to demonstrate his pro-life credentials by taking immediate action. She said he could restore the Mexico City policy of not funding abortion through international organizations, ban government funding of fetal tissue research and order the FDA to rescind its approval of RU-486 and initiate a review of the process which approved the dangerous abortifacient. These could be done with an executive memorandum and would not require the approval of Congress. She said if Bush is serious about his pro-life statements he would do “something substantive.”

With Bush as president, legislation will no longer need the two-thirds veto-proof majority to become law. This is especially important since at least three senators who supported the partial-birth abortion ban were defeated in their re-election bids. However, Lessner said the challenge now is to write a law that can withstand a Supreme Court decision in wake of the Stenberg decision last June. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said any law that does not include a health-of-the-mother exception would be unconstitutional. Pro-lifers will work later this year to formulate a constitutionally viable PBA ban.

But Lessner said there is other pro-life legislation that could be passed and which Bush would likely sign: the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, family planning grants to clinics, efforts to ban the morning-after pill in schools and the Pain Relief Promotion Act (which advocates hope will prevent euthanasia). Lessner is hopeful that these will pass, although he admits some of these items will be more difficult with a virtually evenly divided House and Senate.

Lessner said the real “Armageddon fight will be over the Supreme Court.” Abortion cases are being decided by bare 5-4 majorities so both sides on the issue see the naming of justices as the most important battle in the next few years. “That’s what the opposition to John Ashcroft is all about,” he said. “They [pro-abortionists] don’t want someone like Ashcroft influencing the decision. They want to make it difficult to get another pro-life justice.”

Clearly life issues will be on the agenda. Pro-lifers are anxious to see how Bush handles himself. In his Weekly Standard article, Barnes said, “Don’t expect Bush speeches to be spiked with anti-abortion comments.” But many pro-lifers, having supported him in the campaign, are expecting results.