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."
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.
Last month the Pattersons filed suit against RU-486 maker Danco Laboratories, Planned Parenthood, and the National Population Council, the group that engineered the introduction in the United States and holds RU-486 patent rights. In his daughter's memory Mr. Patterson has testified before Congress, backed parental involvement initiatives, and lent his support to lawmakers hoping to reveal the dangers of the drug.
His efforts came at the end of a 108th Congress that had more pro-life productivity than any since Roe v. Wade-although that's not saying much, and judicial hostility often trumped legislative progress.
"We have achieved some major advances over the past several years, but the most critical battles still lie just ahead of us," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) in Washington, D.C. "In particular, it's absolutely necessary to have a majority of the Supreme Court willing to tolerate increased protections for unborn children. Unless that occurs, legislation to protect the unborn will ultimately be nullified . . . as we have seen so often before."
Case in point: partial-birth abortion. In Stenberg v. Carhart, the high court in 2000 rejected Nebraska's ban on the grisly late-term procedure, in the process wiping off the books similar bans in 30 states. Then came the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, one among the pro-life measures passed by the last Congress, including the Unborn Victims of Violence Act and a ban on the patenting of human embryos. But in 2004 the federal PBA ban did not survive the trio of federal lawsuits filed by abortion-industry lawyers, and the Supreme Court, based on its Carhart decision, may rebuff any appeals.
"The majority of the current court has been imposing a policy that is very extreme, which recognizes no intrinsic right of the unborn child, and that's out of step with the views of vast majorities of Americans," Mr. Johnson said. "In order to establish more substantial protections for unborn children, that has to change."
Substantial change is underway at the state level. Mississippi lawmakers in 2004 passed a record six new pro-life laws, including comprehensive conscience protection; fetal homicide protection; reporting requirements for abortion complications; and additional regulation of abortion clinics.
Meanwhile, a new Alaska law established a publicly funded abortion information website; Kentucky lawmakers provided protection for unborn victims of violence; Missouri and Pennsylvania earmarked significant public funds for crisis pregnancy centers and other abortion alternatives; and Ohio added new regulations for the distribution and use of RU-486.
In a recent review of state laws, NARAL analysts noted that they "have never seen such intense anti-choice activity in state legislatures."
But will that intensity harm Planned Parenthood's bottom line? The abortion behemoth killed 244,628 unborn babies in 2003 (a 6.1 percent jump over 2002) and, during the fiscal year that ended in June 2004, raked in more federal money than ever before. Both publicly and privately funded, Planned Parenthood performs more surgical abortions than anyone else in the nation, 3.5 million since 1970, the equivalent of killing every resident of Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington, D.C. In 2003-2004, Planned Parenthood pocketed an estimated $104 million from its surgical abortion business, more than one-third of its overall clinic income.
Nevertheless, the group is closing clinics and losing donors: Over the past year, the number of Planned Parenthood clinics dropped from 866 to 849; since its 1995 heyday, the group has shuttered a net of 89 clinics. According to its 2003-2004 annual report, private donations to Planned Parenthood fell 17 percent to $191 million, the second decline in three years.
Meanwhile, the overall number of abortions in the United States remains high. But according to the most recent figures available from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood's research arm, the number of abortions fell from 1.36 million in 1996 to 1.31 million in 2000, a decline of 3.6 percent.
Crisis pregnancy centers aim to drive that number down further. In 2003 CareNet, a network of more than 800 pregnancy centers, launched its "Urban Initiative," a project to plant centers in inner cities where abortionists tend to locate their clinics. Last year, CareNet worked with local pro-life groups to open new centers in Atlanta, Ft. Wayne, Ind., and Rockford, Ill. Three more centers, in Toledo, Washington, D.C., and Rochester, N.Y., will open in early 2005, with similar efforts underway in more than a dozen other cities.
Pregnancy centers also are adding medical services-most critically ultrasound and STD testing-in order to reach "abortion-minded" women. Focus on the Family is working with centers that want to add ultrasound through "Option Ultrasound," a grant program it launched in 2004. Aided by Focus funding, at least 55 centers added the technology last year. According to surveys by both Focus and CareNet, about four in five women considering abortion decide to carry their babies to term after viewing ultrasound pictures.
Is the pro-life cause winning? Jim Sedlak, president of Virginia-based American Life League's STOPP International, a small group focused solely on fighting Planned Parenthood, noted, "At colleges and high schools across the country, it is continually a source of encouragement that so many young people are unashamedly pro-life and . . . willing to stand up for what is right." It's a dramatic change, he said, from 20 years ago when the same age groups were buying into "choice" slogans and Planned Parenthood's sex-as-self-actualization rhetoric.
Clark Forsythe of Americans United for Life, which advises state lawmakers, argues that pro-lifers should not overreach politically by pushing all-out bans on abortion, but should instead continue crafting common-sense laws-such as those requiring parental notification and consent-already proven to reduce abortion.
He recently wrote, "At a time when Justice Department attorneys are desperately battling to . . . find a necessary fifth vote on the Supreme Court to uphold the federal restriction on partial-birth abortion, a ban on abortion is clearly doomed." He noted that since abortion forces would challenge and almost certainly win court battles on a ban, such legislation would only fill the pro-abortion coffers with attorneys fees and "do nothing more than fund the [American Civil Liberties Union] and Planned Parenthood, keeping them fully employed, paid by tax dollars for years."