Pro-life leaders reflect on gains in Congress, fallout from health care law

US Congress in session CNA US Catholic News 11 04 10

Pro-life Republican gains in Congress are “substantial” and are likely due to the Catholic vote, according to two pro-life leaders. However, a pro-life Democrat lamented her caucus’ losses, noting the need for reconciliation with the Catholic Church after a tough political fight over health care legislation.

Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), told CNA that the pro-life issue motivated a lot of voters. From the NRLC’s perspective, there were “very, very substantial” improvements in about 65 House seats.

“Either a hardcore pro-abortion candidate was defeated by a pro-life challenger, or someone with a mixed record, like on the health care bill, was replaced.”

The bulk of the candidates, about 40, were “hardcore pro-abortion people” who voted for pro-life legislation “seldom if ever.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said her organization’s “Votes Have Consequences” program was a “huge success” in targeting supporters of the health care legislation.

“When you can successfully defeat 15 out of 20 members of Congress, you know something about the future of the movement,” she continued, calling its future “extremely bright.”

Expressing her “excitement” about the state of contemporary politics, she discussed a “strong pro-life trend” in America among women as well.

“We are seeing a surge of women candidates who are strongly pro-life.”

Such enthusiasm was not shared by all pro-life leaders. Democrats for Life of America head Kristen Day said the election was “disappointing” for pro-life Democrats.

“We lost so many good members of our pro-life caucus,” she said, reporting the caucus had been halved from about 40 to about 20.

“We’ve been there before though,” she added. “We’re very encouraged, which sounds odd, seeing the massive defeat that we had as Democrats as a whole.”

She reported that the new Democratic Senator from West Virginia, Gov. Joe Manchem, is a pro-life Democrat.

Day also noted an “outpouring of support” for and new interest in her organization from people “concerned about the partisanship of the pro-life community, and the targeting of all these good pro-life Democrats.”

She thought concern over the health care bill and whether it funded abortion played a role “because the conservative groups really used it, to a bad degree.”

She cited a hometown newspaper ad against Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Penn.) which said the congresswoman called the Catholic Church “liars” in defending her position that the health care legislation does not fund abortion.

The NRLC’s Johnson also he suspected opposition to the health care legislation was a motivating factor for voters, especially the “abortion-related problems” with the bill.

Criticizing “smokescreens” from what he called “phony front-groups like Catholics United and Democrats for Life of America,” Douglas said that President Obama’s health care law contains “many provisions which will expand abortion if they are allowed to go into effect.”

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“Fortunately, most of them have not yet gone into effect,” Johnson added, advocating the repeal and replacement of the law.

In his view, the broader problem is the “piecemeal, patchwork fashion” of addressing abortion funding restrictions.

“The Hyde Amendment itself expires every year. A lot of people don’t realize it has to be reenacted.”

The proposed No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act would be a “comprehensive fix,” according to Johnson. At the National Right to Life Convention this summer, presumptive House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) endorsed the bill. It was also mentioned in the Republican leadership’s Pledge to America.

The act would “permanently prohibit federal funding and subsidies for abortion in all programs, and it wouldn’t expire every year.” Johnson deemed this a “top priority” to avoid a “charade” accompanying new federal programs which under present law constantly require new abortion funding regulations.

This proposal will be “a tough fight” because it will face opposition from Democratic leadership in the Senate and from President Obama, Johnson predicted. He charged that the president has been a proponent of abortion funding “despite his verbal position.”

SBA List’s Dannenfelser likewise backed uniform restrictions on abortion. She also proposed the defunding of Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States.

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“Planned Parenthood gets $300 million a year from taxpayers. This props up abortion centers across the nation and makes us all culpable in something most Americans disagree with.

Asked about likely pro-life legislation from the new Congress, Kristen Day said it would depend on Republican action in the House.

“I’m not sure that we have a pro-life majority in the Senate,” she explained.

Concerning the Catholic vote, Dannenfesler thought it was “a significant factor in restoring a pro-life Congress.”

“The more frequent churchgoers, those are the people we need to reach,” she told CNA. “The life issue is at the heart of the Church.”

For her part, Day said post-election reconciliation is needed.

“The Democratic Party really agreed with the Catholic Church a lot, and a lot of Democrats felt abandoned by the Catholic bishops for not standing up for their positions.”

She said she had to remind critics of the health care legislation that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) mainly endorsed the legislation and opposed it because of the abortion issue.

“The truth will come out on this health care bill, particularly with the election case in Ohio. People are going to come to realize what a mistake the pro-life community made in targeting these good pro-life members.”

Day charged that conservative pro-lifers have been trying to cut down pro-life Democrats “for some time” because “they feel like the abortion issue is a winning issue for the Republicans and they don’t want the Democrats to take that away.”

“I’m a Catholic, so I really want these pro-life Democrats and the Catholic Church to reconcile their differences over this health care bill so we can continue to work together on pressing policies that help pregnant women, reduce abortion and make sure that we do have universal health care.”

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