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Pro-lifers: Both Ryan & his bill not pro-life

WASHINGTON (BP)–Several evangelical Christian leaders who oppose abortion have endorsed an abortion-reduction bill sponsored by a “pro-life” congressman when, in reality, neither the legislation nor the lawmaker fit those descriptions, according to the country’s major pro-life organizations.

At least one of the measure’s initial evangelical endorsers — former Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page — appears to be re-evaluating his support.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D.-Ohio) is the “pro-life” half of a duo — with Rep. Rose DeLauro (D.-Ct.), an abortion rights advocate, the other half — that reintroduced July 23 legislation described as “common ground” in the abortion debate. The bill is designed to reduce “the need for abortion,” according to the sponsors, by preventing pregnancies through comprehensive sex education, expanded access to contraceptives and more funds for “family planning,” while aiding pregnant women and new mothers.

The promise of fewer abortions in the country helped convince some evangelicals to announce support for the proposal. Among the evangelical endorsers on a list promoted by the religious left-leaning organization Faith in Public Life were: Page, pastor of Taylors First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C.; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; David Gushee, ethics professor at Mercer University; Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action; Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners; Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Fla., and Jonathan Merritt, national spokesman for the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative, which is independent of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Major pro-life leaders, however, oppose the Ryan-DeLauro bill, which is the Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion, and Supporting Parents Act, H.R. 3312. They say it will result in more, not fewer, abortions. The legislation, pro-life leaders contend, will expand federal funding for abortion and abortion providers and provide greater access to the Plan B “morning-after” pill, which is not only a contraceptive but an abortifacient.

Since Page’s “tentative support” was announced for the Ryan-DeLauro proposal, he has expressed uncertainty about the measure and said another bill designed to reduce abortions, the Pregnant Women Support Act, “looks very promising as well.”

“[S]ince receiving information about [Ryan-DeLauro], I have received a great deal of conflicting information about the ultimate result of that piece of legislation,” Page said in an Aug. 17 written statement for Baptist Press. “I am not a legislative expert and cannot accurately predict the outcome of specific pieces of legislation. Let me be clear that any bill that truly results in the reduction of abortion will receive my support. However, I know that there are often clandestine agendas which are placed in pieces of legislation, which on the surface may appear to be supportive of one position but, in reality, turn around the agenda to support yet another position.

“Therefore, let it suffice to say that I support the reduction of abortion,” Page said. “I also hope that funding from our government will no longer go to support organizations such as Planned Parenthood, which is the largest abortion provider in this country.”

Page also said, “As a sitting member of the President’s Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, I am well aware that our president has stated his desire to see the reduction in the number and in the need for abortions. While he and I disagree totally about the language involved, as well as the way to see that goal achieved, I am hopeful that there will be some reduction in abortions in the days ahead.”

The Ryan-DeLauro legislation, however, would greatly increase federal funding for family planning clinics, including those affiliated with Planned Parenthood Federation of America. While recipients of money under the Title X family planning program are barred from using federal grants for abortions, Planned Parenthood affiliates are able to use those funds for activities unrelated to abortion, thereby releasing money from other sources for abortion-related efforts, according to an analysis by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

While the major pro-life organizations are virtually united against the Ryan-DeLauro measure, the ERLC and other anti-abortion groups support the Pregnant Women Support Act, H.R. 2035, which is sponsored by Rep. Lincoln Davis, (D.-Tenn.), a Southern Baptist. Davis’ bill does not address preventing pregnancies but focuses on helping pregnant women. Its proposals include informed consent by a woman before undergoing an abortion, federal grants for ultrasound equipment in health centers, a toll-free phone number for access to support services for women during and after pregnancies, programs to aid pregnant and parenting high school and college students and an increase in the adoption tax credit.

The Pregnant Women Support Act is a legislative vehicle of Democrats for Life of America’s “95-10” initiative, an effort to reduce abortions by 95 percent in 10 years.

At one time, Democrats for Life of America was working with Ryan to devise such a legislative proposal for the 95-10 Initiative. Ryan, only 36 and now in his fourth session of Congress, received 72 and 80 percent ratings from the National Right to Life Committee in his first two sessions, 2003-04 and 2005-06.

“We wanted to put in the bill things that would bring a broad coalition together,” said Kristen Day, DFLA’s executive director. The search for “common ground” even between Democrats for Life of America and Ryan failed. “I think we came to different ideas about what common ground was,” Day said.

Ryan has said Democrats for Life of America does not support his approach because of the bill’s backing for contraceptives, but Day denies the charge.

There are a “lot of problems in the Ryan-DeLauro bill for the pro-life side,” Day told Baptist Press. PWSA’s focus on helping pregnant women is preferable to complicating the effort by “putting prevention and sex education in,” she said. “If we keep [preventing pregnancies and helping pregnant women] together, we’re not going to get anything passed.”

Family planning programs already receive funding from the federal government, but there is no support for pregnant women who want to give birth to their babies, Day said.

“I think we need to take that money to help pregnant women who don’t want to have abortions,” she said. “[W]e really, really need to help those women who, for whatever reason, have an unplanned pregnancy but want to bring those babies to term.”

In September 2006, Ryan and DeLauro introduced their first version of an abortion-reduction bill. In December 2006, Ryan cast his most recent pro-life vote, according to NRLC. Since then, his votes have included support of federal grants for destructive embryonic stem cell research and opposition to prohibitions on both Title X money for Planned Parenthood and funds for organizations that perform or promote abortions overseas.

In 2008, DFLA removed Ryan from its advisory board.

“It was a gradual thing,” Day said. She had several conversations with Ryan and his staff about his voting, she said. His refusal to support the ban on funding for abortions in the District of Columbia convinced DFLA to drop him from the board.

“[W]e couldn’t support what Congressman Ryan was doing, and if we did, it would have undermined” what DFLA was doing, Day said.

In addition to some evangelical Christians, other endorsers of the Ryan-DeLauro bill introduced in July included such abortion-rights supporters as PPFA, NARAL Pro-choice America, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.