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Pro-life policies likely Obama targets

WASHINGTON (BP)–Rules barring federal funds for abortion promotion overseas and embryonic stem cell research appear to be the most likely pro-life targets for reversal by executive orders from President-elect Barack Obama.

After he is sworn in Jan. 20 as the 44th U.S. president, Obama could rescind those policies now in effect without congressional action. Pro-lifers fear he could overturn both within days after taking office.

“I’m very concerned that President-elect Obama, having tacked to the center on economic and foreign policy, will tack hard left on social issues such as the right to life in order to placate his radical leftist supporters,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “I pray that my fears will not be confirmed.”

One rule, which was first instituted in 1984 and is known as the Mexico City Policy, prohibits grants to organizations that promote or perform abortions in foreign countries. The other order, issued by President Bush in 2001, bans funds for stem cell research that results in the destruction of embryos.

Those policies are “particularly vulnerable to unilateral” action by Obama, said Douglas Johnson, longtime legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee.

“I expect he will nullify the Mexico City Policy right away” and “will quickly dismantle” the ban on funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), Johnson told Baptist Press.

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, also expressed pessimism about the Mexico City Policy’s survival. “Unfortunately, I’m not sure we can win that one,” Day told BP.

She voiced hope, however, about retaining the prohibition on ESCR funding.

“The embryonic stem cell research [rule] is where we are focused,” she said. “I think [reversing the ESCR funding ban] would be something realistically that would be a good one not to do. We’re pushing the administration not to [rescind it].”

Democrats for Life of America is appealing to the new administration for a serious debate in Congress on ESCR funding and for a recognition that non-embryonic stem cell research has provided therapies for dozens of afflictions, while ESCR has yet to produce one.

“Where are our limited funds better used, with something that’s working or something that’s not?” Day asked.

The effect of a reversal of the Mexico City Policy “will be to open the floodgates of taxpayer funding of groups that promote abortion in foreign countries” as a method of family planning, Johnson told BP. The result of repealing that rule “will be to take [money] away from groups that are promoting contraception and give it to groups that are promoting abortion,” he said.

Only two organizations — the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International — refuse to abide by the Mexico City Policy and consequently are refused the funds, Day said. There are 650 organizations that accept federal money under the restrictions, she told BP.

President Clinton rescinded the Mexico City Policy when he took office in 1993. After Bush was inaugurated in 2001, he restored the rule initiated by President Reagan and continued by Bush’s father. The policy was named after the city at which it was announced during a 1984 conference.

Even if Obama issues an order gutting Bush’s ban on federal funding of ESCR, there is the possibility it could survive with help from the courts, Johnson said.

The ESCR funding ban has an “underlying” federal law, the Dickey Amendment, Johnson said. That law, first enacted in 1996, prohibits federal funds for the creation of human embryos for research, as well as experimentation that destroys or threatens the health or life of embryos. The Dickey Amendment has been subject to differing interpretations, Johnson said, but a legal challenge could ensue if Obama rescinds the ESCR funding ban. Supporters of the Bush policy could contend in court that the Obama order violates the Dickey Amendment.

The Dickey Amendment is part of the annual spending bill for the Department of Health and Human Services, so Congress would have to continue to approve it each year. The measure is named after its sponsor, former Republican Rep. Jay Dickey of Arkansas.

Embryonic stem cells not only have failed to provide treatments for any diseases in human beings, but they have been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals. Unlike research using embryos, extracting stem cells from non-embryonic sources — such as umbilical cord blood, placentas, fat and bone marrow — does not harm donors and has nearly universal support. Such research has produced treatments for at least 73 human ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research.

Obama likely would reverse another pro-life policy with the anticipated aid of Congress. The Bush administration has refused to forward congressionally approved money for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) for seven consecutive years, based on the agency’s support of China’s coercive, population-control program. Next year, congressional passage of funds for UNFPA would enable Obama to send the money on to the controversial agency.

It may take a few months, as it did under Clinton, but “at the end of the day, I am afraid that [UNFPA] will have the money flow restored,” Johnson said.

The refusal of Bush and previous pro-life presidents to forward funds to UNFPA is based on the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, a 1985 measure that prohibits family planning money from going to any entity that, as decided by the president, “supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.” The amendment is named after former Republican Congressmen Jack Kemp of New York and Robert Kasten of Wisconsin, the measure’s sponsors.
Tom Strode is the Baptist Press Washington bureau chief.