rom a prolife point of view, it appears that even a Congress that is supposed to have a decisive "prolife" majority in both houses can make only minimal gains in the present antilife atmosphere that obtains in the United States. Certainly the 1997 session of the 105th Congress, which is supposed to enjoy such a "prolife" majority, ended with a decided whimper in this regard, rather than with anything resembling a bang.
It is true that there were some gains made. However, they were minimal: the Hyde Amendment, which has restricted government funding of abortions except to save the life of the mother (since 1976), or in cases of rape or incest (since 1993), was actually beefed up by extending its restrictions beyond direct federal support programs to medical plans under Medicaid. The current ban on federal funding of any experimentation on human embryos was also extended-to forbid federal funding of any kind of human cloning experiments (in the wake of the successful cloning in Scotland of the sheep Dolly).
Similarly, the prolife majorities in both houses were able to hold the line against challenges and maintain the current bans on abortion in health plans for federal employees as well as on those abortions formerly paid for by the Bureau of Prisons.
By and large, though, this "prolife" Congress concentrated mostly on denying government funding of
abortion; little was accomplished in the way of attempting to restrict or ban abortion itself. Abortion remains
completely legal in the United States, as the proabortionists never tire of reminding us.
The particularly gruesome abortion technique correctly named "partial-birth abortion," whereby the
baby is partially delivered before being killed by the crushing of his skull and the sucking out of his brains,
has become one of the best known-and widely opposed-"medical" techniques in use today. Both houses of
Congress decisively approved a ban on this horrendous procedure in 1966. However, the President of the United States
then calmly vetoed this Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Bill.
The reaction in both houses of Congress to this outcome was to re-enact the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Bill
again in 1997. The House voted to do this in March by a clear veto-proof majority and the Senate voted to do it
in May; the Senate vote, however, fell three votes short of being a veto-proof majority (whereas the veto override
effort had failed by eight votes the year before).
In spite of the persistent and increasing sentiment in Congress to see this barbaric procedure
banned, however, Bill Clinton, on October 10, promptly vetoed the re-enacted Partial- Birth Abortion Ban Bill,
as he had vetoed the previous one; apparently he was just waiting, pen poised, to express his studied contempt
for mere congressional majorities; he vetoed the bill as soon as the House acted.
As the Congress moved towards adjournment in November, observers noted that another vote to attempt to override the president's veto would be scheduled during 1998. Meanwhile, strenuous efforts were being revived to attempt to persuade Congress to administer to this president once and for all the rebuke he so richly deserves on this issue. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, for example, noted in a press conference that more than three million more postcards had been ordered by the Catholic bishops' prolife arm alone for use by Catholic parishes to generate mail to Congress. Many other groups have been similarly gearing up in an attempt to exert maximum influence on the Congress in 1998 in order to put a partial-birth abortion ban in place at long last.
At this writing there is at least an outside chance that the veto override effort will be successful this second time around: enormous pressures have been building up to outlaw this horrendous abortion procedure; even many normally proabortion legislators have voted against this one, and perhaps three more senators will be found willing to change their votes. It is a measure of President Clinton's own proabortion convictions, however, that he himself has refused to yield on the issue. The ban will have to be enacted over his veto if it is to become law at all.
As adjournment loomed, and in order to avoid a threatened presidential veto of the entire Foreign Operations
appropriations bill, the Republican leadership in Congress, on November 13, agreed to drop a House-passed provision
from the bill which would have restored a ban on aid to international family-planning programs performing, supporting,
or promoting abortions. This House provision would have restored the Reagan Administration's former "Mexico
City language" which maintained such a ban from 1984 to 1993, when President Bill Clinton, in one of his first
acts in the White House, abolished this language by executive order, thus allowing U.S. Government foreign aid
funds to flow unimpeded to such organizations as the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) which perform
and promote abortions abroad on a massive scale as an integral part of "family planning."
However, the Senate had failed to include any Mexico City language in its version of the Foreign Operations bill. More than that, President Clinton had promised a sure veto of any bill that did contain the Mexico City language. Nevertheless, the House, with its strong prolife component, was determined to hold firm. With adjournment itself threatened by unpassed appropriations bills, the Republican leadership offered a compromise. It detached the Mexico City language from the Foreign Operations bill, thus making it possible to enact that roughly $13 billion money bill, of which some $385 million, the same amount as last year, went for the support of family-planning programs abroad. This was one of a number of bills that had to be completed before adjournment in order to keep the government operating into the next year.
Having been removed from the Foreign Operations bill to allow its passage, the Mexico City language was then added to a State Department reauthorization bill which contained, among other things, language that would have consolidated into the State Department two currently independent agencies, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), as well as parts of a third agency, the Agency for International Development (AID). This consolidation plan was, as it happened, the pet project of Senator Jesse Helms (R.- NC), normally one of the strongest prolife legislators in either house.
Nevertheless, Senator Helms, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had labored long and lovingly on this particular reorganization bill. Now, suddenly, its smooth enactment was threatened by the inclusion in the same bill of the Mexico City language banning aid to organizations performing or promoting abortions in international family-planning programs. Nor would the prolife House members yield on the inclusion of this language, a stance which the Republican leadership found itself obliged to support in order to keep its own base intact; the Republican leadership had wanted the Mexico City language moved out of the Foreign Operations bill so that the latter could be enacted without the threat of a veto; but the leadership was committed to standing fast on keeping that language in the State Department reauthorization bill, which did not have to be passed in order to keep the government going and allow the Congress to adjourn.
This situation produced the enormous irony of Jesse Helms himself being one of those criticizing the unyielding position on abortion of Chris Smith and his prolife House allies. Yet another complication arose from the fact that the State Department bill also contained language granting some $826 million to pay U.S. debts to the United Nations, as well as a whopping $3.5 billion dollar payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These payments would be jeopardized unless the whole bill could be passed.
Moreover, President Clinton very much wanted the State Department reorganization, on which Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had been working closely with Senator Helms; the president also wanted the $3.5 billion for the IMF, principally to help stabilize Indonesia, not to speak of South Korea; and the president was equally committed with public statements to paying the nearly $1 billion U.S. debt to the U.N.
House prolifers, supported in this instance by the House leadership, actually thought they had a few bargaining chips with the White House for a change. The president wanted and needed something from them. Representative Smith, along with House Republican prolifers Rep. Jim Talent of Missouri and Rep. Steve Largent of Oklahoma, actually met with the president in order to try to get a deal. They did more than that: they agreed to modify the Mexico City language provision to limit the prohibition of U.S. foreign aid funds only to organizations engaged in "lobbying" abroad for the legalization of abortion; the original language had applied the prohibition to organizations performing abortions (although here the president was allowed some waiver room provided he was willing to accept a smaller amount of funds) and to countries such as China that coerce women into having abortions. But the House prolifers were quite prepared to compromise on these two latter points in order to get at least something out of the deal.
Still another factor involved in the whole affair was the pending "fast track" trade legislation that would have renewed the president's authority to negotiate trade agreements abroad without detailed congressional oversight (Congress could ratify but not amend the trade agreements made by the president). President Clinton very badly wanted this legislation too, and was reportedly making all kinds of deals in order to get the requisite votes. However, a number of prolife Republicans had made it clear that they would not support the fast-track trade legislation unless they also got the Mexico City language somewhere in one of the pending bills. Chris Smith estimated the number of House members in this category at about two dozen, which probably would have made the difference on the fast-track trade bill (assuming not too many Democratic defections as a result of any Administration agreement to allow even modified Mexico City language).
Given all these factors, it really seemed as if a prolife victory-limited, perhaps, but nevertheless very real-could be secured at the expense of our adamant proabortion president: surely Bill Clinton would have to yield and allow at least the watered- down Mexico City language in order to get his fast-track trade bill, his State Department reauthorization, his money for the IMF, and his money to pay the UN debt. All of these items were central to President Clinton's announced foreign policy-as Missouri's Rep. Jim Talent remarked at the time. Surely the president would compromise.
Nothing of the sort. The president absolutely refused to consider any compromise where unrestricted abortion was at issue. This was a president who had shown himself capable of making deals on virtually everything-but not, as it turned out, on abortion. Many observers have judged William Jefferson Clinton to be a wholly unprincipled man, but one principle he has undeviatingly upheld whatever the political cost to him, namely, his insistence that there must be no restrictions on either the advocacy or the performance of abortions by organizations funded by the U.S. Government. People in his own Administration, such as Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson, were all said to be appalled by their president's stance; from the point of view of his own Administration, the president was giving up an enormous amount merely to maintain his proabortion stance.
"The only thing I could figure out," House Speaker Newt Gingrich was quoted in the press as saying, "was that the feminist proabortion faction in the White House-which is substantial-has a rigidity on this topic that is astonishing. You'd think with Iraq and all that stuff going on, Clinton would have swallowed a compromise. It's embarrassing..."
Missouri's Rep. Jim Talent was quoted as saying, "When you link it up with some of Al Gore's statements like the idea that population growth causes global warming, they view abortion as an answer to environmental problems internationally. Causing abortions abroad seems to be central to this Administration's policy in a number of ways."
There were, of course, indications that some proabortion Democrats favoring the fast-track trade bill, such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, let the president know that they would switch their votes if the White House ever compromised even on an attenuated version of the Mexico City language. There is no way of knowing how the vote would have come out if Clinton had been willing to compromise; but it is significant that the president was unwilling even to put the thing to a test, if it meant yielding the slightest thing on abortion. The only recourse for prolifers was therefore to deny the president the other things he wanted if he was not going to compromise with them in any way. As prolife Republican Rep. Tom Coburn from Oklahoma noted: "No give, no give. If we don't get something similar [on abortion], no IMF, no UN, and no reorganization"-not to speak of no fast-track trade bill, the thing that the president wanted most of all.
Even then, the White House was able to salvage a propaganda victory of sorts out of the whole affair; this was possible simply because, by depicting the Republican prolife House as the intransigent one in the whole affair, the White House was able to get the president off the hook; there was no hint that the president had been the one unwilling to compromise. At the same time, White House spokesman Michael McCurry was able to point out that it was "particularly ill-timed" to be snubbing the U.N. at the very time that the U.S. was seeking the support of the U.N. against Iraq's Saddam Hussein. "It is utterly bone-headed," McCurry went on, "for Congress to fail to meet the commitments that the United States has at the U.N. in terms of our arrears."
And, in fact, it is hard to see what benefits accrue to the prolife cause as such by the rejection by Republican "conservatives" of some of these foreign policy goals of the president. This whole affair appears to be yet one more instance where the prolife movement has gotten drawn into issues beyond its immediate interests-and then made to look bad because of its supposed "intransigence" and "rigidity."
No doubt it was politically necessary to inflict upon the president a political cost for his total unwillingness to compromise. That, after all, is what politics consists of in the end: you have to pay for what you decide to do. Nevertheless, it is amazing how often prolife politicians end up on the losing side in this kind of affair: themselves taxed with "intransigence" when it is the other side that has refused to yield.
As regards the failure of the fast-track trade bill, Bill Clinton was able, blandly and deftly, to turn the whole issue around so as to blame, once again, House prolifers for the defeat of this supposedly important legislation. "Had we been able to resolve [the Mexico City language issue]," the president declared disingenuously, "I think we could have gotten enough votes on the Republican side to pass the bill. I think we could have. But we were simply unable to do that." The president did not mention, of course, that he was the one who had refused to compromise after the other side had been prepared to compromise.
And so it was that the sustained, and even heroic, efforts of Chris Smith and his allies to put the United States out of the abortion business abroad-failed. It is hard to see how the prolife position could have been any worse if prolife House members had simply, flatly opposed all so-called family-planning programs abroad for purposes of population control. No doubt they would have garnered fewer votes from some House members opposed to abortion even while they remain convinced that family planning itself is a benefit. But what has been gained by the enormous effort expended to get language opposing abortion as a method of family planning only to fail in the end anyway? Prolifers should be opposing so-called population control programs abroad as such, not just the inclusion of abortion in these programs.
Instead, the main prolife effort in the domestic family- planning area in 1977 concerned an amendment to the appropriations bill introduced by Rep. Ernest Istook (R.- OK) which would have required parental consent before minors could receive any "family- planning services" from federally funded clinics. Efforts to get this amendment inserted into the 1997 Labor and Health and Human Services appropriations bill were exerted both at the committee level and on the House floor.
In point of fact, the Istook Amendment was brought forward with a greater degree of credibility this time because of a fairly widely publicized incident in Illinois where a high school teacher had carried on an affair with a teen-ager for some eighteen months, driving her regularly to the County health department for the federally subsidized "family planning services" (birth control injections) which made this sustained affair even possible-all this without the knowledge, much less the consent, of the parents of the girl, who was, of course, a minor. In a normal world, such an incident as this would have helped render plausible what is in fact the true conclusion to be drawn from it all, namely, that government-funded birth control programs are not only a highly dubious social and personal "benefit"; they are frequently and demonstrably harmful to the public health and welfare, especially where vulnerable teen-agers are concerned.
But no: in the brave new contemporary world of the sexual revolution, such an incident as a teacher sexually
exploiting a student is in no way embarrassing to the public officials who have, in effect, made it possible. No:
it becomes nothing but "a very complex matter," in the words of Labor-HHS appropriations subcommittee
Chairman John Edward Porter, quintessential "moderate" Republican of Illinois. Claiming that a moral
issue is "complex," of course, is almost invariably the subterfuge of choice today for getting around
that particular issue. It is a favorite characterization, for example, employed by those Catholic theologians who
"responsibly dissent" from the teachings of the Catholic Church on matters of sexual morality. If an
issue is "complex," then "simplistic" objections such as that unmarried teen-agers ought not
to engage in sexual relations or that, especially, high school teachers ought not to engage in such relations with
their students can easily be set aside and ignored.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston thus had no compunctions this time around about warning his colleagues that attaching such controversial amendments as the Istook Amendment to appropriations bills could jeopardize the final passage of such bills-at the very time when the Congress was getting ready to adjourn and go home. No matter that President Clinton was quite prepared to delay the whole process by giving out vetoes wherever there was something he believed in on principle (access to abortion); no matter that the Republicans themselves are supposed to stand for something regardless of the consequences if they expect support from many of those who voted for them.
The fact remained, however, that Chairman Livingston had well before that time publicly evidenced his principled
objections to including substantive amendments in appropriations bills anyway. As a principle, this position was
probably completely correct. In the case at hand, however, the Istook Amendment represented a principle which the
Republicans as a party could ill afford to abandon in the present permissive era if they are really going to try
to hold the line on anything.
Rep. Istook and his allies made an attempt to revive his amendment when the Labor-HHS appropriations
bill reached the House floor in September. Rep. Istook pointed out that "if you do things to make sexual activity
by teens easier, there will be more out-of- wedlock births, and more abortions too." Chairman Porter blandly
rejoined, however, that requiring parental notification would essentially prevent teens from dysfunctional families
from getting "the kinds of services that prevent pregnancies, help to prevent sexually transmitted diseases,
and in the end help to prevent abortions."
The day when our prolife legislators might begin to see that contraception in fact entails and inevitably leads to abortion-as Pope John Paul II has clearly seen and written in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae-still appears to be a rather distant day. The same thing is unfortunately true of most of the major prolife organizations engaged in lobbying for the prolife cause and for prolife issues on Capitol Hill: they "take no position on birth control"-and thereby they actually help perpetuate the widely perceived need to "control" births after the fact by resorting to the legalized abortion which our Supreme Court has meanwhile conveniently provided.
Introduced on the floor by Rep. Istook himself and by Rep. Donald Manzullo (R.- IL), the Istoook Amendment was effectively gutted and stripped of any real, operative force. In the mysterious way that Congress sometimes proceeds, the Amendment was, technically, approved-but only after the bland Porter language merely "encouraging" family participation in birth control decisions and calling for "counseling" against engaging in sexual activities had been substituted for the original Istook language. This was brought about by means of another amendment introduced by Rep. Michael N. Castle (R.- DE). This Castle Amendment was approved by a vote of 220-201 on September 9; then the Istook Amendment itself-as amended by Castle!-was approved on the same day by a vote of 254 to 169. And so it was that full federal funding for domestic family-planning programs was continued without any real restrictions by the U.S. Congress for yet another year...
A modicum of good news did accompany the passage of the 1997 Labor-HHS appropriations bill, however: the bill also contained the perennial Hyde Amendment which, this year, was extended not only to exclude direct government funding of most abortions but also to exclude payments to managed health-care providers or health plans that provide for or allow for abortions.
What the phrase "a prolife majority" in Congress appears to mean at the present time, in other words, is that a majority of our law-makers evidently really do not want the government to be paying for abortions; at the same time, they appear to be doing or saying little or nothing that might ever encourage people to believe that abortion itself is wrong and should be made illegal.
President Clinton's choices to fill the post of Surgeon General of the United States have confirmed-as strongly
as anything else he has ever said or done-this president's fundamental commitment-always ahead of anything else
whatever-to the abortion culture and to the sexual revolution that stands behind it. The president has consistently
selected a black, proabortion physician for this post in order to preclude even the suggestion of any criticism
that the Administration's proabortion and pro-sexual-license policies might somehow be aimed at black genocide
or at corrupting the morals of the black community in particular. As unlikely as any such accusations might appear
to be in today's decadent moral climate, a proabortion Southern president can surely never be too careful.
The president's second choice for surgeon general was the equally inimitable Dr. Henry W. Foster, Jr. This black physician failed to get Senate confirmation for the post not so much on account of the abortions he had steadily advocated and even himself performed; rather, his nomination failed mostly on account of the gratuitous and multiple lies he felt obliged to tell in the course of being considered for the post. Dr. Foster's record included a half dozen or more serious disabilities, any one of which, in the present climate-including instances of unethical medical experimentation-would probably have destroyed the candidacy of any candidate who was not a black. Nevertheless, Dr. Foster missed being confirmed as surgeon general only by the narrowest of margins and, indeed, on a technicality. Even a number of senators who otherwise professed prolife principles found it difficult to oppose him-or any black.
The same psychology and dynamics appear to be in play as regards President Clinton's latest nominee to be Surgeon
General of the United States: he is Dr. David Satcher, currently the director of the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, whom the president nominated to the surgeon general's position on September 13,
1997. When long drawn-out and bruising confirmation battles occur, such as the one that accompanied the confirmation
of Dr. Elders, or the subsequent one that accompanied the failure to be confirmed of Dr. Foster, both sides normally
draw back. Neither side wants another "controversy." For example, President Clinton simply left the surgeon
general's post vacant for nearly two years following the unsuccessful battle to get Dr. Foster confirmed.
It is probably typical of President Clinton's open commitment to abortion, however, that he has been willing to name yet another black proabortion physician to the surgeon general's post following the protracted controversy over Dr. Foster-even at nearly two years' remove. For Dr. Satcher is in no way a neutral or stealth candidate. On the contrary, not only is he openly proabortion and prepared to defend even partial-birth abortions; he has also been involved in CDC research which has been challenged, apparently on pretty good grounds, as unethical-one of Dr. Foster's disabilities; and he has defended without apology, for example, CDC's controversial policy of not reporting to parents instances where HIV-positive results in infants were uncovered in the course of CDC-sponsored research.
Yet, in spite of such a known and objectionable record-which should have eliminated him from consideration from
the outset-Dr. Satcher's nomination by the president failed to provoke any significant opposition, either in the
prolife movement or in the medical profession. Although his disabilities would seem on the face of it to be quite
serious, he has been treated in practice virtually as a stealth candidate, and has been carefully and quietly conducted
through the confirmation process by Democrats such as Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D.- MA), who described the good
doctor as a "respected family doctor, a respected scholar, and a leader in the public health community."
Such opposition to Dr. Satcher seems to have counted for little, however. Following a hearing on nomination, the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee voted 12 to 5 to approve Dr. Satcher's nomination and send it to the floor. A supposedly prolife senator such as Republican Bill Frist of Tennessee, himself a physician, resolved any doubts he may have had about Dr. Satcher on the basis of a simple letter from the latter claiming that he would not as surgeon general promote abortion-related issues-as if a Robert Bork could have disarmed his opposition by writing a letter stating that he would not be bound in his decisions by the language of the Constitution!
Similarly, the supposedly prolife Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia stated that he was voting for Dr. Satcher's confirmation in spite of the latter's open proabortion position because, in the Virginia senator's own words, "I was deeply impressed with this man's commitment." As Congress adjourned, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, ostensibly another "prolife" senator, was predicting: "I assume his nomination will be confirmed after the first of the year..."
And so it was as yet another black proabortion physician was nominated to be Surgeon General of the United States: there certainly did not appear to be any recognition on the part of President Clinton that nominating another proabortion physician to be surgeon general was anything he needed to steer clear of; on the contrary, the president seemed to be well on the way to the vindication of his choice by a favorable vote of the whole Senate when it reconvenes.
In the meantime, with "friends" like Senators Frist and Warner, the prolife movement scarcely seems to be in need of any enemies.
Kenneth D. Whitehead reports frequently on the Washington scene and on federal government involvement in issues relating to our current culture war.
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