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Pro-life, pro-family issues await action in Congress

WASHINGTON (BP)–Congress will resume work Labor Day week with hopes of adjourning in only a month and numerous measures of interest to pro-life and pro-family advocates awaiting action, especially in the Senate.

Both houses have set Oct. 4 as their target for adjournment in an attempt to provide members an opportunity to campaign for the Nov. 5 elections. All 435 House of Representatives seats and 34 of 100 Senate spots are to be determined.

Congress entered the traditional August recess with abortion a sticking point in the Senate for both legislation and presidential nominees.

The House has passed the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act, the Child Custody Protection Act and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, but all three are at the mercy of Sen. Tom Daschle, the pro-choice leader of a one-vote Democratic majority. Abortion-rights advocates in the Senate also are attempting to push through measures that would liberalize United States policy in the international arena and cut out pro-life protesters from bankruptcy reform.

Another pro-life measure appears to be a victim of the Senate. Daschle has acted to prevent a clear vote on the Human Cloning Prohibition Act, which would prohibit cloning for both reproductive and research purposes. The House easily adopted the bill last year. All other cloning proposals in the Senate would permit research cloning while banning reproductive cloning.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also is threatening to reject another judicial nominee over the abortion issue. The committee blocked federal judge Charles Pickering from a floor vote in March at least partly because of concerns he would deliver pro-life opinions, and it may do the same to Texas Supreme Court Judge Priscilla Owen in September. Owen, like Pickering a nominee to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, has offended abortion-rights sensibilities by issuing opinions supportive of a state law requiring parental notification for a minor before she may obtain an abortion.

One bill pushed by pro-life advocates survived the Senate gauntlet. Both the Senate and House approved the Born-alive Infants Protection Act without opposition, and President Bush signed it into law in early August. The law clarifies a newborn child fully outside his mother’s womb is a person to be protected under federal law. It criminalizes a technique known as live-birth abortion in which delivery is induced and the baby is expected to die in the process. If the child survives, however, it is left unattended to die.

Religious conservatives gained another victory in May when Congress swiftly passed a measure to protect a long-standing tax exemption for clergy, an action supported by a variety of religious groups.

Bush signed the Clergy Housing Allowance Clarification Act after the legislation sped through Congress in the face of a judicial challenge to the exemption’s constitutionality. The unusually rapid legislative action, which came without opposition in either house, followed a March announcement by a panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that it was reviewing the constitutionality of the allowance.

Measures pending in Congress include:

— Human Cloning Prohibition Act – The bill, S. 1899, appears dead in the Senate. The House approved its version of a comprehensive ban in 2001 by more than 100 votes. Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., chief sponsor of the Senate bill, rejected Daschle’s plan for debate and votes on cloning legislation when it was offered in June because he believed it unjustly placed his legislation at a disadvantage. Last year, Daschle had promised a vote on cloning by February or March.

— Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act – Senate action on this bill also seems unlikely this year. The House voted 274-151 in July for this prohibition on a particularly grisly procedure. President Bush has promised to sign the bill, but Daschle was noncommittal at best after the House’s action. Congress approved a ban on the method, which involves the killing of a nearly totally delivered child in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy, in both 1996 and ’97, but President Clinton vetoed it both times. The Supreme Court struck down a state version of the ban in 2000, but the new version, H.R. 4965, includes some changes in hopes of passing judicial tests.

— Child Custody Protection Act – The House voted 260-161 in April for the legislation, H.R. 476, which would protect parents’ rights when an underage girl is seeking an abortion outside her state in order to avoid a parental involvement law. The Senate has yet to act on it. The House easily adopted the measure in 1998 and ’99, but the bill died in the Senate both times. The measure would make it a federal offense for a person to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion when the state in which the girl lives requires either parental notification or consent before such a procedure. Bush is expected to sign the bill if the Senate approves it.

— Unborn Victims of Violence Act – The House passed the bill by 80 votes early last year, but the Senate has failed to vote on it. The legislation, H.R. 503, would recognize an unborn baby as a crime victim when he is injured or slain during a federal offense against his mother. Bush supports the bill.

— Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act – Some pro-life members of the House held up action on a conference committee report on this legislation just before the August recess. Supporters of the bill are expected to seek approval by both houses in September. The measure, H.R. 333, would bar peaceful pro-life protesters from filing for bankruptcy when fined by courts. A committee of conferees from both chambers gained the support of some pro-lifers when they agreed to language that restricted the protest provision to those who violated the law by intentional action. It also limited application to those who protest a business because of its legal goods or services.

— Foreign Operations spending – The Senate Appropriations Committee voted in July to approve a change in a 17-year-old law in order to make it easier for a controversial United Nations population-control program to receive federal funds. The provision would increase funding for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) to $50 million and make it nearly impossible for the White House to withhold the funds. The measure would change the law to require a finding that a family planning program directly supports coercive activities before funds could be withheld. The current law, the1985 Kemp-Kasten Amendment, prohibits family planning money from going to any entity that, as determined by the president, “supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.” The Bush administration announced only four days later it would not release $34 million in funds approved this year for the UNFPA because of its involvement with China’s coercive population-control program.

— Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved in July this international treaty that critics say could remove all restrictions on abortion, open the family and church to invasive scrutiny and undercut the authority of federal and state governments. The full Senate may vote on CEDAW as early as September. A two-thirds majority is required for confirmation of the treaty, which was adopted by the U.N. in 1979. President Carter signed the treaty in 1980. Since then, it has been languishing in the Senate, while 170 countries have approved it.

— Child Obscenity and Pornography Prevention Act – The House voted 413-8 in June to approve H.R. 4623, which is a response to an April decision by the Supreme Court that invalidated portions of a 1996 law that expanded a ban on child pornography to include images that appear to be of children under 18 engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The high court struck down a provision that banned visual depictions, including computer-generated images, that appear to be of minors engaged in explicit sex, as well as a section that prohibited sexually explicit images that are promoted or presented as involving children. The bill proposes new language to restore the prohibitions, but some pro-family organizations have expressed concerns about its effect.

— Care Act – The House approved H.R. 7 last year with a 233-198 vote. The Senate Finance Committee has approved a version of the legislation, but no floor vote has been taken. The House measure would encourage increased private giving to charitable organizations, as well as expand government support of charities, including religious ones, that provide social services. The Senate is likely to pass a bill that only would encourage private donations to charities, such as allowing non-itemizing taxpayers to deduct for charitable contributions.

— Sudan Peace Act – Both the Senate and House of Representatives have approved different versions of the bill, which includes provisions to increase humanitarian aid to the victims of the Islamic regime. A conference committee, however, has not moved forward with a final version. The House bill includes language that would bar foreign companies from being listed on U.S. stock exchanges if they participate in oil development in Sudan. Big business and some in the Bush administration strongly oppose that element of the House version. Profits from oil in Sudan have helped underwrite Khartoum’s military campaign against Christians, animists and moderate Muslims.

— Employment Non-discrimination Act – The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee sent S. 1284 to the full chamber in April, but a floor vote has not occurred. ENDA would extend workplace protection to people on the basis of their sexual behavior or identity. It would make discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” illegal in both the private and public workplace. The measure would treat “sexual orientation” in similar fashion to other categories, such as race, gender and age, already protected by federal civil rights law. According to ENDA, “sexual orientation” encompasses “homosexuality, bisexuality or heterosexuality, whether the orientation is real or perceived.”

— Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act – The Senate Judiciary Committee forwarded this hate-crimes bill to the full house last year but it has yet to gain an affirmative floor vote. S. 625 would include “sexual orientation” among the classifications protected in federal hate-crimes laws.

Other legislation that has been introduced but has yet to be acted on by committees in either house includes:

— Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act – H.R. 2357 would amend the Internal Revenue Code to lift its total ban on political activities by churches and other tax-exempt organizations.

— Workplace Religious Freedom Act – S. 2572 would amend the Civil Rights Act to require an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation of a worker’s religious exercise.

— Abortion Non-discrimination Act – The proposal would clarify that federal law protects the consciences of medical students who do not want to learn how to do abortions, doctors who are opposed to providing abortions and health-care entities that do not want to offer abortion services. The companion bills are H.R. 4691 and S. 2008.

— Schoolchildren’s Health Protection Act – H.R. 3805 would block federal funds to any elementary or secondary school that distributes the “morning-after pill” to underage students. The pill has abortifacient qualities, since it acts to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse.

— 10 Commandments Defense Act – H.R. 3895 would protect a state’s authority to display the 10 Commandments on government property.

Among constitutional amendments that have been introduced but have not been acted on are:

— Federal Marriage Amendment – It is designed to protect marriage as a union between a male and a female by preventing attempts in courts or legislatures to redefine marriage to include same-sex unions. While the amendment would preclude judges from forcing “civil unions” and same-sex, marriage-like benefits upon states, it would not prevent state legislatures from continuing to make such decisions. It also would not affect employee benefits provided by private businesses.

— Pledge of Allegiance amendments – At least five amendments have been introduced to protect the right to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag. A panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in June the pledge violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on government establishment of religion because it includes the phrase “under God.”

Contacts with members of Congress may be made by calling the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or be emailing through www.erlc.com/capitolhill.