Facing Continued Obstruction in Senate, Pro-Life Forces Move Ahead in Congress
By Douglas Johnson
NRLC Federal Legislative Director
WASHINGTON (Aug. 5, 2003) - - Pro-life forces are moving forward on a number of fronts in Congress, but progress is slow because of the strength of the pro-abortion bloc in the U.S. Senate.
The 108th Congress, which began in January, is taking August off for its traditional summer recess. The session will resume on September 2, and is expected to continue into November.
After another recess, the 108th Congress will conduct a second session to begin in January 2004, which will run into the fall of this presidential election year.
What follows is a summary of the status of a number of key pro-life issues involving children in utero and human embryos.
Since January, the Republicans have controlled the Senate by a 51-49 majority. However, Senate rules allow many opportunities for delay and obstruction by a minority - - even, at times, by a single senator.
This year, Senate Democrats have used obstructionist tactics on judicial nominations to a degree never seen before. They have refused to allow votes on three of President Bush's nominees to U.S. courts of appeals. These courts are one tier under the U.S. Supreme Court.
The blocked nominees are Miguel Estrada, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; Priscilla Owen of Texas, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit; and William Pryor of Alabama, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
All three are opposed by NARAL and other pro-abortion groups.
These groups redoubled their efforts against Pryor, who is attorney general of Alabama, after a June 11 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee at which Pryor, asked for his views on Roe v. Wade, replied, "I believe that not only is it unsupported by the text and structure of the Constitution, but it has led to a morally wrong result. It has led to the slaughter of millions of innocent unborn children."
Under Senate rules, it requires 60 votes to "invoke cloture" and thereby force an issue or nomination to a vote. So far, all 51 Republicans have stuck together in voting for all of President Bush's judicial nominees. But only two Democrats have done so consistently, Zell Miller (Ga.)
and Ben Nelson (Ne.). In addition, Democratic Senators John Breaux (La.) and Bill Nelson (Fl.) have voted to end the filibuster against Estrada.
The other 45 Democratic senators have voted consistently not to allow up-and-down votes on confirming Estrada, Owen, and Pryor.
Several other nominees who are currently awaiting action by the full Senate or by the Senate Judiciary Committee may also become candidates for filibusters, including Carolyn Kuhl of California, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The Senate passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (S. 3), sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), by a vote of 64-33 on March 13. Before passing the bill, the Senate voted 52-46 to add one amendment opposed by backers of the bill. That amendment, offered by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), endorses the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision and advises that the ruling should not be overturned.
On June 4, the House of Representatives also passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (H.R. 760), 282-139, but without the Harkin Amendment.
The House immediately requested appointment of a House-Senate conference committee to resolve the single difference between the bills (the Harkin Amendment). Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tn.) attempted to agree to this request in June, but Senate Democrats refused to agree to the move, insisting that they wanted to debate the issue further and at length.
Finally, on July 30, Senate Democrats agreed to a deal under which the Senate will take up the issue at a time determined by Frist in September, debate for eight hours, and then vote on whether to "disagree" with the House's dropping of the Harkin Amendment. Presumably, a majority of senators will once again vote in support of the Harkin Amendment.
Under the deal, Frist will then immediately name three Republicans and two Democrats as Senate members of the conference committee. Since the majority of both Senate and House conference committee members will be pro-life supporters of the bill, it is expected that the committee will drop the Harkin Amendment and approve a "clean" version of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.
"I see no circumstances under which the House would agree" to the Harkin language, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), the chief sponsor of the House bill, told Roll Call: The Newspaper of Capitol Hill.
Once the conference committee reaches agreement, the final bill - - called a "conference report" - - will go back to the Senate for a final vote.
Senator Harkin told Roll Call that he might try to mount a filibuster against the conference report if his amendment is dropped. But in order for such an effort to be successful, at least six senators who voted for the bill in March would have to switch and vote to block it - - a highly unlikely scenario.
Following the final Senate vote, the House must also approve the conference report. The House rules allow this vote to be scheduled speedily. President Bush has indicated that he is eager to sign the bill into law.
Pro-abortion groups have vowed to immediately file legal challenges to the bill in at least three different federal courts, and protracted litigation is anticipated.
of Violence Act
Senate Majority Leader Frist has attempted repeatedly to get Senate Democrats to agree to an orderly floor debate and vote on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (S. 1019), sponsored by Sen. Mike DeWine (R- Ohio).
This bill, strongly backed by NRLC, would recognize unborn children as legal victims when they are injured or killed during the commission of federal crimes.
Among those urging rapid Senate action on the bill has been Sharon Rocha, whose daughter Laci Peterson and grandson Conner Peterson were murdered in California last December.
Since June, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (SD) has said that he agrees with Frist that the Senate should consider the issue "expeditiously." Nevertheless, Democratic senators Barbara Boxer (Ca.) and Patty Murray (Wa.) are insisting that they want to offer entire bills on unrelated subjects as amendments to the bill. The controversy associated with these unrelated issues, and the time that would be required to dispose of them on the Senate floor, have so far delayed action on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act.
Nevertheless, as the Senate's summer recess began on August 1, Frist made it clear that he is determined to force Senate action on the bill in the fall.
In the House, the companion bill (H.R. 1997), sponsored by Rep. Melissa Hart (R-Pa.), has been approved by the House Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee. The House has passed the legislation twice before - - in 1999 and 2001 - - and would readily do so again. President Bush strongly supports the bill.
A more detailed report on recent developments on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act begins on page 1 of this issue.
Protecting Human Embryos
A top pro-life priority, legislation to ban the creation of human embryos by cloning, has been blocked in the Senate since February.
The House passed the NRLC-backed Weldon-Stupak bill (H.R. 534) to ban all human cloning on February 27, 241-155. (See March NRL News, page 1.)
In the Senate, however, the nearly identical bill sponsored by Senators Sam Brownback (R-Ks.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) (S. 245) has failed to garner the level of support that would be needed to overcome a promised filibuster by senators who support so-called "research cloning."
Many of the pro-cloning senators have rallied behind counter-legislation sponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.) (S. 303), which pro-life groups call "the clone and kill bill." The Hatch-Feinstein bill would allow human embryos to be created by cloning, and penalize anyone who keeps such an embryo alive after the 14th day (unless frozen).
For further information on the two competing cloning-related bills, see "Human Cloning Legislation in Congress: Misconceptions and Realities," April NRL News, pages 9-14, and on the NRLC website at http://www.nrlc.org/killing_embryos/cloningmisconceptions031803.html.
Some biotech firms hope to eventually be able to obtain patents that would allow an exclusive property right to create and sell "copies" of cloned human embryos who have specific genetic traits. In an effort to head off such a patent-driven industry of "human embryo farms," Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fl.) - - a physician who has been the leader in the House of efforts to ban human cloning - - on July 22 offered an amendment to prohibit the U.S. Patent Office from issuing a patent on any "human organism."
The amendment, offered to a pending appropriations bill that funds the Patent Office among other agencies, passed on a voice vote. It is expected, however, that the powerful biotechnology lobby will work hard to block it at later stages in the legislative process.
"No one should be able to own a human being at any stage of development," Weldon said after the House vote. "Congress has never spoken to this issue, and I felt it was past time that we did."
In a related area, on July 24, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chairman of the House Pro-Life Caucus, introduced a bill (H.R. 2852) to establish a federal program to collect, store, and support research on stems cells obtained from human umbilical cords and placenta. Recent research indicates that these are rich sources of stem cells that might be used to develop effective therapies for a number of diseases, and perhaps provide an alternative to the types of research that depend on stem cells obtained by killing human embryos.
"In addition to helping cure many of today's most serious diseases, recent scientific research suggests cord blood stem cells may lead to much improved treatments for Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's, and several other fatal and debilitating conditions," Smith said.
to Pro-Abortion Groups
During July, pro-abortion forces launched attacks on two longstanding pro-life policies that govern certain U.S. foreign aid programs.
One target is the so-called "Mexico City Policy," which is a key pro-life policy that President Bush implemented by executive order in 2001. The policy bars U.S. foreign aid funds for "family planning" programs overseas from being given to private organizations that perform abortions (with narrow exceptions) or promote abortion (for example, by working to repeal pro-life laws).
This pro-life policy, originally enforced by President Reagan and the first President Bush, was nullified by President Clinton from 1993-2001. The policy was restored in January 2001 by President George W. Bush.
On July 9, during consideration of the State Department authorization bill (S. 925), pro-abortion Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.) offered an amendment that would nullify the pro-life policy. The Senate voted in support of the amendment, 53-43. (The roll call appears on page 19 of this issue.)
However, it is expected that the pro-abortion provision will later be dropped in a House-Senate conference committee. The House has passed a substantially different version of the State Department bill, which contains no such provision, and the White House sent a written warning that the entire bill will be vetoed unless the provision is dropped.
On July 15, during the House's consideration of its version of the State Department bill, the House rejected an attempt to weaken a key pro-life law that has blocked U.S. funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
This law, known as the "Kemp-Kasten anti-coercion law," has been in effect for 18 years. It prohibits U.S. funding of any organization that "supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization."
In 2002, the Bush Administration determined that the extensive involvement of the UNFPA in China's population control program - - which relies heavily on coerced abortions - - violates the Kemp law, and the Administration cut off U.S. funding of the UNFPA.
By a close vote of 216-211, the House adopted an amendment sponsored by pro-life Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Jim Oberstar (D-Mn.), and Henry Hyde (R-Il.) to preserve the original Kemp-Kasten law. The vote turned back an effort, led by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), to gut the anti-coercion law and restore U.S. funding to the UNFPA.
More details on the vote, and the House roll call, appear on pages 24-25 of this issue.
Other Pro-Life Bills
Several other bills backed by NRLC have been introduced in one or both houses and are expected to see action later in the Congress. Among these:
The Child Custody Protection Act has been introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl.) as H.R. 1755 and by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nv.) as S. 851. It would make it a federal crime to transport a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion if this evades the parental involvement requirements of a minor's home state. The House has passed this legislation in the last three congresses, but the Senate has never taken it up.
The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act was introduced on July 14 by Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) as S. 1397. The bill clarifies that no government entity can discriminate against any health care provider, including a hospital or health plan, because that provider declines to be involved in providing abortions. The House passed this legislation in the last Congress, but the Senate never acted on it.
The Informed Choice Act has been introduced by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fl.) as H.R. 195 and by Senator Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) as S. 340. The bill would authorize $3 million per year for grants to qualifying agencies to buy ultrasound equipment, to be used to provide live ultrasound images to pregnant women who desire such services.
The votes of members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House on key pro-life issues are collected in "scorecards" that are posted on the NRLC website at www.nrlc.org, in the "Legislative Action Center." Key votes are added to the scorecards soon after they occur.
The "Legislative Action Center" also contains detailed information on the various bills supported and opposed by NRLC, including the names of the lawmakers who have cosponsored each measure.