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Pro-life, pro-family measures casualties as Congress closes

WASHINGTON (BP)–Pro-life and other measures supported by social conservatives were among the casualties as the 105th Congress wrapped up its work.
Members of the Senate and House of Representatives left the capital, most to campaign for the Nov. 3 elections, after approving an omnibus spending bill of about $500 billion negotiated by congressional leaders and President Clinton.
The massive legislation included not only funding for a large majority of federal departments but a hodge-podge of other measures as well. Few of the numerous bills promoted by social conservatives in this Congress survived. Among those included in the omnibus legislation, however, were:
— The Child On-line Protection Act, which seeks to block children under 17 from accessing pornography on the Internet’s World Wide Web by forcing commercial distributors to remove free images and to require a credit card, personal identification number or adult access code in order to view sexually explicit material.
— a ban on federal funding of needle-exchange programs in the District of Columbia.
— measures prohibiting funds for the United Nations Population Fund, which assists China in its forced one-child policy, and for foreign population-control programs that are coercive.
The bill also included, however, legislation requiring coverage for contraceptives, even when they are potentially abortion-inducing, in the health benefits plan for federal employees.
In addition, the president vetoed separate legislation he requested to pay nearly $1 billion in late dues to the United Nations because it included a provision blocking federal funds for organizations that lobby foreign governments to liberalize their abortion policies.
Pro-life, pro-family measures excluded from the omnibus bill included:
— a prohibition on the Food and Drug Administration using federal funds to develop or approve abortion-inducing drugs, including RU 486.
— a requirement that federally funded Title X clinics notify parents before dispensing contraceptive drugs or devices to minors.
— a ban on adoptions by homosexuals in the District of Columbia.
— a measure blocking San Francisco from using federal funds to implement its policy of requiring businesses and charities having contracts with the city to provide benefits to homosexual and unmarried heterosexual couples.
— a prohibition on Internet gambling;
— a bill requiring schools and libraries that receive federal Internet subsidies to have software filters on their computers to block out sexually explicit material.
— educational vouchers for children from low-income families in the District of Columbia.
Other bills supported by social conservatives that were either defeated in the closing weeks of the session or not acted upon before Congress adjourned included:
— a veto override of the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act, which gained a two-thirds majority in the House but fell three votes short in the Senate.
— a bill, titled the Child Custody Protection Act, making it a crime for a person to transport a minor to another state for an abortion without the parents’ involvement when the state in which the girl lives requires either parental notification or consent.
— the Lethal Drug Abuse Prevention Act, which would revoke a physician’s Drug Enforcement Administration registration if he prescribes federally regulated drugs for the purpose of assisted suicide or euthanasia.
In addition, Congress adopted educational reform legislation permitting tax-free savings accounts to be used for religious and other private schools at the elementary and secondary levels, but the president vetoed it.
Congress gained Clinton’s signature this year for two significant religious freedom measures: The International Religious Freedom Act, which seeks to alleviate religious persecution in foreign countries, and the Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Protection Act, which provides relief for churches from a series of court rulings in recent years ordering congregations to surrender tithes contributed by members who later filed for bankruptcy.
“Naturally, we would always hope for more out of Congress than what we might actually get,” said Will Dodson, director of public policy for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “This Congress did produce some good things. On other matters, we were disappointed.
“However, the political reality is that the president can veto legislation, and to override that veto takes two-thirds of the members of both houses of Congress. Therefore, when the president and Congress are at odds on a particular issue, which is almost always the case on moral issues with this Congress and with this president, then there are going to be compromises. Realistically, for the pro-life, pro-family agenda to move forward in a dramatic fashion will require a Congress and a president who are compatible on these issues. In the meantime, it is a test of political skills and willpower as to which side will gain or lose the most ground.”
Pro-family leader James Dobson sharply criticized the Republican majority’s failure to act more on moral issues and to end the marriage-penalty tax.
“Republican leaders have again abandoned their pro-family and pro-moral base without which they could not have achieved power,” said Dobson in a written statement he said he issued as a private individual and not as president of Focus on the Family. “They delivered on few of the legislative commitments made in the spring, although rank-and-file conservatives in the House and Senate worked valiantly to pass a number of important bills during the term. Unfortunately, most of those initiatives died in the Senate, thanks to majority leader Trent Lott’s stunning lack of commitment to families, or with the veto pen of Bill Clinton.
“Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough true conservatives in Washington.”
Dobson’s threat in February to bolt from the GOP and take as many people with him as possible if congressional Republicans did not act on earlier promises appeared to result in increased congressional activity on socially conservative measures in the spring and summer.
The ERLC’s Dodson said, “I think we should be careful to question the willpower of those who sincerely agree with us philosophically on the issues which matter most to us as Christians. Personally, I believe that we can do more good for the cause by encouraging and praying for all of those in authority whether we agree with them or not, and additionally we must certainly carry our convictions to the ballot box and let our voice be heard by members of Congress on the issues we care so much about.”