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Abortion | Roe v. Wade turns 32 this month, but the abortion establishment it helped create is less secure than ever. With changes in schools, legislatures, and perhaps even the Democratic Party, the pro-life movement has reason for (measured) optimism

Issue: "Tsunami," Jan. 15, 2005

What may be the biggest abortion-related political battle of 2005 began on Dec. 23, 2004, when President Bush announced that he would renominate 20 pro-life judges, including formerly filibustered nominees Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor and Texas Supreme Court Judge Priscilla Owen. If a Supreme Court vacancy emerges, the Senate battle will become more intense.

The wider battle over abortion has now raged for more than three decades. As Roe v. Wade this month turns 32, one question is: Who's winning?

Many Republicans hope that their increased majority, now at 55 seats, will at least level the playing field, rebalancing federal courts with judges who interpret laws surrounding abortion, instead of making them. Most Democrats, meanwhile, seem likely to stick to the pro-abortion script that underlay incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's response to the latest White House sally: "I was extremely disappointed to learn today that the president intends to begin the new Congress by resubmitting extremist judicial nominees."

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Other Democrats, though, are professing a kinder, gentler attitude toward pro-lifers. Former presidential candidate John Kerry shocked abortion enthusiasts at a postelection meeting of key Democratic activists at AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C. Ellen Malcolm, president of the pro-abortion political action committee Emily's List, asked Sen. Kerry where the party was headed next. The senator responded that Democrats need to "moderate" their abortion image, reach out to pro-life voters, and welcome more pro-life candidates into the party.

"There was a gasp in the room," NARAL president Nancy Keenan said. But Sen. Kerry isn't the only Democrat singing that tune. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Reid both support pro-life Democrat Tim Roemer's candidacy for the chairmanship of the DNC. In a recent CNN interview, Mr. Roemer, a former U.S. congressman, called late-term and partial-birth abortion "a moral blind spot."

Pro-abortion leaders rage about the possibility that someone not committed to abortion might lead their party. (Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt recently complained that Mr. Roemer's rejection of late-term abortion is nothing less than a rejection of a Democratic "core value.") But Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) president Kristen Day is ecstatic-over both Mr. Roemer's pending candidacy and the Democratic reality check in response to millions of moral-values voters.

For 11 years, Ms. Day worked on Capitol Hill as a Democratic staffer, only to go from party regular to party pariah when she founded DFLA in 1999. "When I'd tell [former Hill colleagues] what I'm doing now, I had some people actually turn around and walk away." During the run-up to the election, Ms. Day tried to have DFLA's website linked to the DNC's site. "I went for eight months without someone [at party headquarters] returning my calls," she said.

Election 2004 changed all that. Not only is the DNC returning her calls, but Ms. Day said she has attended strategy sessions with Democratic congressional leaders to encourage the inclusion of pro-lifers in national party politics. "This election was a wake-up call for a lot of people," she said. "Now, pro-life Democrats are not afraid to bring the subject up. People are willing to say, 'You know what? Our party doesn't have to be one-sided on this issue.' There's a different message coming from the top."

New boldness among pro-life Democrats combined with the larger GOP majority likely means new life for bills that failed before, such as the Child Custody Protection Act, a measure that would make it a federal crime to ferry minors across state lines for secret abortions. Meanwhile, pro-life lawmakers are unveiling new bills, including one that would temporarily suspend the sale of RU-486 pending an investigation into charges of political pressure and procedural fast-tracking surrounding approval of the drug in 2000.

In November, the FDA announced it would revise its RU-486 labeling to warn users of serious infection, sepsis, bleeding, ruptured tubal pregnancies, and death. But for Monty and Deborah Patterson, the warning is too late. Last year, their daughter Holly, 18, died after a Haywood, Calif., Planned Parenthood administered RU-486 and sent her home to expel a dead baby. Holly became pregnant at 17 and had been a legal adult for less than two weeks when she took the lethal medication on Sept. 10.

Four days later, as she doubled over with severe cramping, her boyfriend took her to the emergency room, where a doctor gave her painkillers and sent her home. By Sept. 16, Holly was unable to walk. She was again rushed to the hospital. Her father Monty arrived just in time to hold Holly's hand as she died of massive infection and septic shock, the result of incomplete expulsion of the baby.

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