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Pro-lifers face challenge this year in Congress

WASHINGTON (BP)–Pro-life advocates will fight this year what appears to be an uphill battle to enact federal legislation protecting the sanctity of human life.

Entering the 30th year since abortion’s legalization in the United States, opponents of the practice are seeking incremental victories in Congress while also following through on attempts to protect embryonic life from destructive experimentation.

Pro-life members of Congress hope to adopt early in the year a comprehensive ban on human cloning and to turn back an attempt to liberalize President Bush’s policy on embryonic stem cell research. They also would like to complete adoption of two measures that would enhance legal protection for unborn and newly born children.

The combination of a congressional election year, the narrow majorities in both houses and a Senate majority normally adverse to pro-life proposals is expected to make 2002 a difficult year for divisive legislation and therefore a challenge for advocates of protecting human life at all stages.

Pro-lifers plan to work hard in spite of the obstacles.

“We will be diligently pursuing these issues,” said Shannon Royce, government relations director for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “We will seek votes in any way we can get them through regular process or amendment.”

A bill on which pro-lifers have been promised a vote is a proposal to prohibit human cloning for both reproductive and research purposes. The House of Representatives approved the Human Cloning Prohibition Act in July by more than 100 votes, but the Senate failed to act. In the fall, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D.-S.D., promised Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., the chief sponsor, a vote in February or March. How simple it will be to gain an up-or-down floor vote on the ban remains to be seen. The president has endorsed the comprehensive ban.

In addition, some senators are backing a bill that would prohibit only reproductive cloning. The measure would still allow cloning for research purposes, which results in the destruction of human embryos.

At the same time, Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Pa., is expected to attempt to push a bill expanding federal funding to stem cell research requiring the destruction of human embryos. Such a measure would liberalize the policy announced in August by Bush. The president’s position allows funding for research using colonies of stem cells already in existence but not for the creation of embryos from which to harvest stem cells, a process that results in the destruction of the young human beings.

While the ERLC and some other sanctity-of-life organizations expressed disappointment in Bush’s decision, expansion of the policy to provide funds for destructive embryonic research would result in widespread opposition from pro-lifers. Though Specter’s proposal may succeed in the Senate, it appears unlikely to pass the House.

Pro-life advocates hope to complete passage of two bills that received partial approval last year.

Both houses approved the Born Alive Infants Protection Act as part of the Patients’ Bill of Rights. A conference committee did not report out a final version of the patients’ bill, however. The Born Alive Infants Protection Act would provide federal protection to a newborn fully outside the mother’s womb. It is targeted primarily at a procedure known as live-birth abortion in which children who survive the method are allowed to die without medical care.

The House easily passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, but the Senate never acted on it. The measure 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.

An attempt to overturn the revived Mexico City policy may be made by abortion-rights advocates, especially in the Senate. Last year, the president issued an order re-establishing a ban on funds to organizations that perform or promote abortions in foreign countries or lobby those governments to liberalize their pro-life policies. President Clinton had rescinded the policy in 1993, nine years after President Reagan implemented it.

The fate of another attempt to prohibit partial-birth abortions does not appear hopeful this year. Clinton twice vetoed such a measure, and the Supreme Court struck down a similar state ban in 2000.