Senate again may be roadblock to pro-life laws during '04

WASHINGTON (BP)--The U.S. Senate again appears to hold the fate of several pro-life measures in its hands during this congressional year.

Whether it is outlawing human cloning, barring patents on human embryos, punishing those who harm preborn children or guarding parental involvement in teenagers' abortion decisions, the House of Representatives already has given approval or seems ready to do so. The Senate is a different matter. There, abortion-rights activists wield more power.

And it is in the Senate alone where possibly the most significant pro-life battles of the year will be fought -- over the confirmation of federal appeals court nominees. Senate Democrats already are blocking up-or-down votes on five nominees, all whom they fear will support pro-life decisions.

In addition to the Senate's recalcitrance, pro-life members of Congress also face the added hurdle of an election year. With both presidential and congressional elections set in November, pro-lifers expect a repeat of the normal delays on legislation in such years.

On the positive side, pro-life efforts in the Senate are following on the heels of a significant pro-life victory last year -- enactment of the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act eight years after its initial introduction. They also possess the benefit of a citizenry that public opinion polls show is increasingly pro-life and a Senate majority leader who supports their efforts.

"I do know Senator [Bill] Frist has been supportive of any number of measures on the cloning and pro-life front," said Brian Hart, press secretary for Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., a pro-life leader in the Senate.

The House passed a comprehensive ban on human cloning by 86 votes in February, but the Senate has yet to act on it. Brownback is pushing a companion bill in the Senate that would prohibit -- like the House-approved version -- cloning for the purpose of reproducing a child, as well as cloning with the intention of creating an embryo on which to perform research.

Utah's Orrin Hatch, Brownback's fellow Republican, and his allies, however, have stymied the Kansas senator's efforts by backing a measure that would permit research cloning while banning reproductive cloning. Hatch's bill would not allow an embryo to live beyond 14 days.

Brownback is "definitely hopeful something can happen this year" on his Human Cloning Prohibition Act, S. 245, said Hart, the senator's press secretary. Supporters of a comprehensive ban are seeking to build momentum for such a measure through state initiatives, Hart said. Eight states have enacted bans for both reproductive and research cloning, he said.

Letters of support to Brownback's office from Kansas and other states have increased since New Jersey's enactment in early January of legislation legalizing research cloning, Hart said.

"The recent decision in New Jersey to allow the cloning of humans for scientific purposes should send a shudder through the moral consciousness of our nation," said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy at the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "The Human Cloning Prohibition Act is the only safeguard possible to stop the atrocities about to occur in America's bio-labs."

The House approved in December a ban on granting patents on human beings as part of an omnibus spending bill. It is uncertain, however, whether the Senate will pass the measure when it reconvenes Jan. 20. The amendment by Rep. Dave Weldon, R.-Fla., would codify a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office policy that prohibits patents on human beings at any stage of development. The measure especially is designed to block biotechnology firms and researchers from gaining patents on human embryos.

In past years, the House has passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act and the Child Custody Protection Act without the Senate acting. House pro-lifers appear to have the votes to adopt those bills again, but the Senate again may throw up barriers to their enactment.

Here are significant pro-life measures that have yet to receive floor votes in either chamber this Congress:

-- Unborn Victims of Violence Act (S. 1019/H.R. 1997). This bill, approved by the House in both 1999 and 2001 but never acted on by the Senate, would recognize an unborn child as a crime victim when he is injured or slain during the commission of a federal offense against his mother. The House Constitution Subcommittee voted 6-3 for the bill in July and forwarded it to the Judiciary Committee. In the House, it is titled Laci and Conner's Law, after Laci Peterson and her unborn child, who allegedly were killed by her husband.

-- Child Custody Protection Act (S. 851/H.R. 1755). 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. The House has passed such legislation three times but has yet to act on it in this Congress. The Senate has never voted on the measure.

-- Abortion Nondiscrimination Act (S. 1397/H.R. 3664). It 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 performing abortions and healthcare entities that do not want to offer abortion services.

-- Informed Choice Act (S. 340/H.R. 195). This bill would authorize $3 million a year in grants to nonprofit organizations to purchase equipment in order to provide free ultrasound tests for pregnant women who desire them.

The ERLC's Duke said he is "very encouraged by the bills that will apply some brakes to the runaway abortion culture in our nation."

"All of the pro-life bills pending in this Congress make significant contributions to the restoration of a culture of life in our nation," Duke said. "They should all be passed. The ERLC looks forward to working with a vast army of people and organizations mobilized around the commitment that all life is sacred."

Last year, efforts to repeal American pro-life policies overseas were turned back, but attempts by abortion-rights advocates are expected again.

The five appeals court nominees filibustered so far by the Senate Democratic minority are Janice Rogers Brown, a District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals nominee; Carolyn Kuhl, a Ninth Circuit selection; William Pryor in the 11th Circuit; and Priscilla Owen and Charles Pickering, both Fifth Circuit nominees.

Supporters of the nominees need 60 votes to end a filibuster and produce a vote, something the Republicans repeatedly have been unable to achieve.


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