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House’s shift encourages pro-lifers

WASHINGTON (BP)–Dramatic gains in the mid-term election have given pro-life advocates hope they can advance favorable legislation through the U.S. House of Representatives in the next congressional session, though the Senate and White House likely still would stand as roadblocks to enactment.

At least 77 of the more than 90 new members of the House “are committed to defending the unborn,” said the chamber’s pro-life leader, Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, after the Nov. 2 balloting.

The result is “a net shift in the pro-life direction in the House of 40 to 55 votes, depending on the issue,” said Douglas Johnson, longtime legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.

Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land and Smith described the House’s makeup in 2011 in similar terms.

“This will undoubtedly be the most pro-life House since the Roe v. Wade decision,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe invalidated all state laws prohibiting abortion and, in combination with a companion decision titled Doe v. Bolton, effectively legalized the procedure for any reason throughout all stages of pregnancy.

Smith said in a written statement, “January will mark the beginning of the arguably most pro-life House EVER.”

The chamber’s huge swing to the pro-life side was “an unprecedented statement that voters reject taxpayer-funded abortion and want a more conservative, pro-life legislature moving forward,” said Penny Nance, chief executive officer of Concerned Women for America.

The No. 1 legislative effort by pro-lifers in the next Congress probably will be a government-wide ban on federal funding and subsidies for abortion known as the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. The measure would expand the Hyde Amendment, which prevents funds from the Department of Health and Human Services from being used for most abortions.

The Republicans, who may gain as many as 65 House seats when winners are determined in the close races, endorsed the funding ban in their “Pledge to America” document introduced in September.

Smith, the chief sponsor of the bill in this Congress, has 183 cosponsors, with Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois the lead Democrat. The legislation also provides conscience protections for pro-life, health-care workers.

Other legislative targets for pro-lifers include defunding Planned Parenthood Federation of America and repealing the health-care reform law enacted in March.

Planned Parenthood is the country’s leading abortion provider. Its affiliates performed more than 324,000 abortions in 2008, the latest year for which statistics are available. It received about $350 million in government grants and contracts during the 2007-08 financial year.

The health-care law has provisions that will enable health care plans that cover abortion to be subsidized.

The net gain for pro-lifers in the Senate — four to seven votes, Johnson estimated in an analysis for the National Catholic Reporter — is unlikely to produce victories for new pro-life legislation but could help protect existing pro-life policies, such as the ban on abortions in American military facilities. Republicans gained six seats in the Senate, but the Democratic caucus will still hold the advantage, 53-47.

If pro-life measures reach his desk, President Obama is expected to use his veto power.

Exit polls demonstrated the difference evangelical Christian voters made in electing pro-lifers to Congress, Land said.

“The exit polling shows that 29 percent of all the votes cast in this election were cast by born-again, evangelical conservatives, and they voted 78 percent for Republican candidates,” Land said. “And 52 percent of the people who say they are sympathetic to the Tea Party identify as conservative evangelicals. Consequently, the vast percentage of these new congressmen is pro-life, and it will make a real difference when it comes to passing legislation to protect our unborn citizens.”

Land cited results from polling by Public Opinion Strategies for the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

In a survey conducted by The Polling Co. and referred to by Johnson:

— 30 percent of voters said abortion influenced them, and nearly 75 percent of these voters cast ballots for pro-life candidates.

— 31 percent of voters said abortion funding in the new health-care law affected their vote, and 87 percent of these voters cast ballots for candidates who opposed the law.

Johnson wrote in his analysis, “The take-home lesson, for lawmakers in both parties, could hardly be clearer: If you vote against the pro-life position — as defined by the mainstream pro-life groups — on a major abortion-related public policy issue, you will be held accountable by a substantial bloc of the electorate.”
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.