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December 04, 2008
Life Issues in the New Administration
By Ronald J. Rychlak *

By Ronald J. Rychlak *

\The election is over, and the changes are already beginning. For sincere Catholics, the most disappointing prospect is President-elect Barack Obama's complete embrace of the culture of death. He is dedicated not only to preserving the right to abortion, but actually to extending it. Unfortunately, he can make lots of changes quite quickly, and he almost certainly will do so.
 
Last year, Obama promised Planned Parenthood that his first act as president would be to sign a bill that he co-sponsored in the Senate: the Freedom of Choice Act. This bill will invalidate virtually every state or federal restriction on abortion, even those previously found constitutional by the Supreme Court, such as parental notification laws, waiting periods, full disclosure, and the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Some scholars argue that it could also force Catholic doctors to perform abortions against their will.
           
Obama also wants to reverse the ban on federal funding of fetal stem cell research. That won't even require legislation, just an executive order. With the stroke of a pen, human embryos will become property. They will be produced for the purpose of harvesting their parts, and federal funding will support the process. President Bush refused to risk "crossing a fundamental moral line by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos." For Obama, it is a priority.
           
Obama is also expected to reverse the ban on taxpayer funding for overseas aid promoting or offering abortion (the "Mexico City Policy"). President Reagan instituted this policy in 1984. It was repealed by President Clinton in 1993, but reinstituted in 2001 by President Bush. It will probably be re-repealed by President Obama very quickly.
           
President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is also about to undergo a radical change. Bush launched PEPFAR in 2003 to combat global HIV/AIDS. It was the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in human history, with up to $48 billion authorized for the effort. Under PEPFAR health workers are trained to emphasize abstinence and marital fidelity as the most effective ways to combat the spread of AIDS. Unfortunately, that is about to change.
           
Discussing these issues, Susan F. Wood, the co-chair of Obama's advisory committee for women's health issues, said: "We have been going in the wrong direction and we need to turn it around and be promoting prevention and family-planning services." The Obama team's approach will emphasize condoms, abortion, and the morning-after pill. Referencing Obama's campaign slogan, Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition said, "I don't think many dreamed that this 'change' would mean taking taxpayer dollars to fund abortion around the world." He called the projected policy overhaul of PEPFAR "tragic, a betrayal of social justice and human rights."
           
Even at the United Nations, things will change. Time after time, in agreement after agreement, advocates attempt to insert abortion rights language into international treaties. Representatives of the Holy See spend a great deal of time combating these efforts. During the Clinton administration, the Holy See was often at odds with the United States over these issues. Once the Bush administration was in place, the Holy See and the United States were on the same side. Unfortunately, that is about to change again.
           
As Time magazine has reported, "the election of a pro-choice, pro-diplomacy Democratic president is changing the Vatican's game plan vis-à-vis Washington on several levels. Bush was viewed in Rome as a rare ally in the West for his opposition to such issues as abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research." Obama will not be an ally. The United States will now support abortion rights in international treaties, and the Holy See will continue its heroic efforts on behalf of the most vulnerable humans.
           
This is a lesson about presidential power for now and the future. We all know that the president gets to nominate Supreme Court justices. Too often, the electorate is told that this is the only real impact that the president can have on life issues. (That was the argument set forth by Republican, abortion-rights candidate Rudolph Giuliani in an effort to attract -- or at least not frighten off -- pro-life voters.) In reality, however, the president sets the agenda and affects life issues in numerous ways that we are only just now coming to see clearly.
           
While he was a state senator in Illinois, President-elect Obama opposed a measure that would have mandated medical treatment for babies who survived an attempted abortion and were born alive. His reasoning was that such a law might suggest that these fully born babies were actually human. Unfortunately, his stated intentions indicate that he is determined to continue denying their humanity. As president, that determination means that many more human lives will be lost.

Printed with permission from InsideCatholic.com.

Ronald J. Rychlak is the associate dean and MDLA Professor of Law at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He is the author of Hitler, the War, and the Pope (2000) and Righteous Gentiles (2005).
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