Cover Story

Just how pro are these pro-lifers?

"Just how pro are these pro-lifers?" Continued...

Issue: "Hope or hype?," Jan. 20, 2007

That "game" pitted most Republicans and the relative handful of pro-life Democrats against the bulk of the then-majority Democratic Party, which had burnished its image as the champion of abortion on demand. Democratic officials happily accepted contributions from groups like Planned Parenthood and Emily's List that swooped in on state and federal elections to sprinkle cash like fetal crop dust. And most elected Democrats could be counted on to vote against any restrictions on abortion.

Most, but not all.

In some states, especially in the South, conservative Democrats quietly united with Republican majorities to pass parental consent and notification laws, along with measures holding abortion businesses to the same standards as other out-patient medical clinics. In Congress, conservative Democrats such as Rep. Lincoln Davis of Tennessee and Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska racked up consistent pro-life voting records. And on the streets, the Molly Pannells told pollsters over and over again that they didn't like abortion. In the early 2000s, Zogby, Gallup, and others found that between half and two-thirds of Democratic voters thought most abortions should be outlawed.

After Republican victories in 2000, 2002, and 2004, Democrats are not treating the Pregnant Woman Support Act, a bill Davis first introduced last September, as dead on arrival. The measure is a bundle of proposals that would, among other things, establish a toll-free number to direct women to places that will provide support; make the adoption tax credit permanent; support informed consent for abortion services; increase funding for domestic violence programs; require state and federal health plans to cover pregnant women and unborn children; provide incentives to reduce teen pregnancy; and give housing grants to pregnant college students who wish to continue their education.

The devil is in the details, of course. Adoption tax credits and some other segments might enjoy bipartisan support, but defenders of abortion have fought informed-consent provisions in many states and sometimes turned the term "medically accurate" into legislative code that means "abortion is harmless." Differences on how to reduce unmarried pregnancy remain.

Davis told WORLD that his measure is "both a pro-life and pro-choice" bill that "doesn't punish anyone. . . . It doesn't bring guilt. It just offers additional options that people don't have today." Representing southeastern Tennessee, Davis seems all good ole boy ("I've got 180,000 miles on my old pickup truck from drivin' it around my district"), all Southern Baptist ("When I get sworn in, I'm gonna use the Bible my daddy gave my mother in 1955, after they wore out their old one") and all Democrat ("I'm just fed up with this crap of Republicans using abortion politically and doing nothing about it").

He said that Republicans during their 12-year majority "did nothing to reduce the number of abortions," perhaps echoing a Democratic talking point that reared its head in 2005. On Meet the Press early that year, Sen. John Kerry said to host Tim Russert, "Do you know that in fact abortion has gone up in these last few years with the draconian policies that Republicans have put into place?" On the same program in May, Howard Dean told Russert, "Abortions have gone up 25 percent since George W. Bush was named president."

Abortion reporting lags by at least three years, so current figures are hard to come by (which apparently didn't hamper either Kerry or Dean). But during the first three years of the Bush presidency, the numbers fell by about one percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As to Davis's statement on Republican effectiveness, abortion numbers dropped from 1.27 million in 1994, the year of the "Republican Revolution," to just over 848,000 in 2003, the most recent year for which data is available.

Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups acknowledge the drops, but argue that comprehensive sex education and increased use of birth control triggered them. Studies of CDC data by WORLD and the Heritage Foundation, though, showed that the number of abortions declined most rapidly in states with parental consent and notification laws largely ushered through by Republican majorities. (Mississippi is an exception: Conservative Democrats there control both houses of the legislature and since the late '90s have passed a raft of pro-life laws, slashing abortion numbers in the state.)

Davis also said that the "life issue" should be expanded to include human-rights and economic concerns, such as helping low-income pregnant women. The concept dovetails with the "95-10 Initiative," a project of Democrats for Life of America (DFLA), which aims to reduce the number of abortions by 95 percent over 10 years. Kristin Day notes that while Congress is funding at record level Title X-which provides access to free contraceptive supplies and education-lawmakers have not made the same commitment to women who want to rear their babies.


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