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LIFE DIGEST: Hillary Clinton softens abortion stance; FDA delays pill decision; Dutch doctors widen euthanasia

WASHINGTON (BP)–Sen. Hillary Clinton, D.-N.Y., appeared to moderate her tone on abortion in a Jan. 24 speech in what may be part of an attempt to appeal to more Americans in the wake of the “moral values” vote that helped President Bush gain re-election in November.

Speaking to about 1,000 abortion rights advocates in Albany, N.Y., the former first lady reaffirmed her support for the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, but she also called the procedure a “sad, even tragic choice for many, many women,” The New York Times reported.

“I for one respect those who believe with all their heart and conscience that there are no circumstances under which abortion should be available,” she said, according to The Times.

She said there was “common ground” on which pro-life and pro-choice advocates could stand to reduce the number of “unwanted pregnancies” and abortions. She urged the opposing sides to work together to support sex education for teenagers that includes abstinence training, the availability of the “morning-after” pill and family planning.

Most pro-lifers, however, oppose the “morning-after” pill, also known as “emergency contraception,” because it can act after conception. The pill can prevent implantation of the tiny embryo in the uterine wall.

Clinton also told the audience faith and organized religion were the “primary” reasons teens abstain from sexual intercourse.

Only five days before, Clinton also spoke favorably of religious belief, this time at a fundraising dinner for a Boston faith-based organization.

She invoked God’s name more than half a dozen times, according to the Boston Globe, and said, “I’ve always been a praying person.”

Clinton strongly endorsed faith-based initiatives, which many Democrats have opposed on the basis of church-state separation. “There is no contradiction between support for faith-based initiatives and upholding our constitutional principles,” she said, the Globe reported. She also said there should be an opportunity for people to “live out their faith in the public square.”

Clinton, regarded as one of the Senate’s more liberal members, is widely considered a prime candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, though she will face a re-election race for her Senate seat in 2006. Since Bush won a second term and Republicans gained seats in Congress, some Democrats have been calling for their party to stake out a less liberal position on abortion and to be open to pro-lifers. Abortion rights organizations, which have a powerful influence among Democrats, have criticized such calls and are seeking to prevent a move away from the party’s staunch abortion advocacy.

Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, said Clinton and other Democrats would have opportunities to demonstrate they are more moderate on abortion.

“They can vote for legislation advising women of the pain inflicted by abortion on developing children in the womb,” Perkins wrote in his daily commentary Jan. 26. “They can drop their pro-Roe litmus test for federal judges. They can vote to end the interstate transport of minors to evade parental notice laws. They can stop demanding that American families subsidize Planned Parenthood, which performs and promotes sad and tragic procedures in record numbers every year. In politics, we may trust and hope, but we must always test and verify.”

DEATH IN KANSAS? — A woman who was rushed from the Wichita, Kan., clinic of well-known abortion doctor George Tiller has died, Operation Rescue said it has learned from two “reliable and credible” sources.

The woman arrived at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita with “severe hemorrhaging” and died “a few days later” because of undetermined reasons that “are very likely to be the result of a botched abortion,” one source said, according to an O.R. news release.

The woman was rushed by ambulance from Tiller’s Women’s Health Care Services clinic to the hospital Jan. 13, O.R. staff members at both sites reported.

O.R. President Troy Newman criticized Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius for vetoing a clinic regulation bill that might “have prevented this needless and tragic death.” O.R. called for the Kansas Board of Healing Arts to investigate and suspend Tiller’s medical license.

Tiller has become known as the leading provider of late-term abortions in the United States. The clinic’s website describes him as a specialist in “2nd trimester elective and 2nd/3rd trimester therapeutic abortion care.” The Internet site also says thousands of women “throughout the world” have been patients at the clinic.

Tiller has done abortions since 1973 and has owned and operated the Women’s Health Care Services clinic since 1975, according to the website.

O.R. maintains a regular sidewalk counseling presence at the clinic.

PILL NEWS DELAYED — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration failed to meet a Jan. 21 deadline for making a decision about over-the-counter (OTC) sale of a “morning-after” pill that many pro-life advocates oppose as an abortifacient.

Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc. confirmed it had received notice from the FDA it had been unable to complete its review of the New Jersey-based firm’s application for OTC sales of the pill. The FDA said, however, it hoped to announce a decision soon, according to a Barr news release.

If its application is approved, Barr would be able to sell the Plan B “emergency contraceptive” without a prescription to women 16 years of age and older. Plan B is now available by prescription only.

The FDA rejected a request from Barr in May for OTC sales, citing a lack of evidence about the pill’s effect on girls 16 and younger. It gave the company an option of reapplying for OTC sales for females 16 and older and prescription sales for girls 15 and younger. Barr resubmitted its request under those guidelines.

The pill works by restricting ovulation in a woman. Supporters argue it will prevent unplanned pregnancies and abortions. Foes of “emergency contraception” say the method also can work after conception, blocking implantation of a tiny embryo in the uterine wall. In such a case, an abortion occurs, pro-lifers point out.

The “morning-after” pill is basically a heavier dose of birth control pills. Under the regimen, a woman takes two pills within 72 hours of sexual intercourse and another dose 12 hours later. In addition to Plan B, the FDA has approved prescription use of another “morning-after” pill, Preven.

DUTCH AND DEATH — Death has many friends in The Netherlands.

The Royal Dutch Medical Association has recommended physicians be able to euthanize patients who are not ill but “suffering through living,” the British Medical Journal reported Jan. 8.

On Jan. 22, the Dutch Journal of Medicine reported no doctors have been prosecuted in the European country in spite of 22 reported cases from 1997 to 2004 of euthanasia of babies with spina bifida, according to Reuters News Service.

The Netherlands has experienced what critics have described as a “slippery slope” in the practice of killing patients since it became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia in 2001.

The medical association’s recommendation after a three-year study conflicts with a 2002 ruling by the Dutch Supreme Court, which found a patient must have a “classifiable physical or mental condition,” the British journal reported. The law, however, only states a person must be “suffering hopelessly and unbearably” and does not mention a physical or mental condition, according to the BMJ.

The report said there is no reason for doctors not to use euthanasia on patients who are not ill but who request death and could be determined to be “suffering hopelessly and unbearably.”

BMJ reported Dutch anti-euthanasia leader Henk Jochemsen said the report sends dangerous signals, indicating “we as a society should say to people who feel their life has lost meaning, ‘Right, you had better go away.'”

The Dutch Journal of Medicine reported prosecutors had dismissed all cases against doctors who had euthanized infants, according to Reuters. The euthanasia of children is illegal in The Netherlands, but there has been an increasing willingness to promote the practice recently.

In August, a Dutch doctors group requested the government’s Health Ministry establish an independent panel to review the cases of terminally ill patients “with no free will,” the Associated Press reported. This category would include children, people with severe mental impairments and patients in a supposedly irreversible coma, according to the AP.

Groningen University Hospital reported in November it had killed four newborns in 2003, even before it received the government’s permission to euthanize terminally ill children.

Dutch euthanasia of children is not new. A 1997 study published in the Lancet, a British medical journal, found 45 percent of neo-natologists and 31 percent of pediatricians had secretly euthanized infants, euthanasia foe Wesley Smith wrote in a Sept. 13 article in The Daily Standard. About 21 percent of infant deaths by euthanasia took place without the request or the consent of the parents, Smith said.

UNIQUE UMC MOMENT — United Methodist Bishop Timothy Whitaker of Florida decried abortion as a “moral horror” Jan. 24 in what The Institute on Religion and Democracy described as possibly the first time a UMC bishop has denounced abortion publicly since it was legalized in 1973.

Speaking to a pro-life Methodist group at the United Methodist Building in Washington on the occasion of the annual March for Life, Whitaker said, “Can there be any doubt that there is silence and passivity about abortion in our church?”

He expressed regret Methodist agencies are members of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, an interfaith organization that promotes abortion rights.

“In the United Methodist Church, we ought to apply our theological reflection, our pastoral guidance and our public witness against the violence of abortion in the name of the God of peace,” Whitaker said.