LIFE DIGEST: Kerry ‘flip’ not a flop for NARAL endorsement

WASHINGTON (BP)--John Kerry’s unexpected comment he would be open to nominating pro-life federal judges did not deter at least one leading abortion-rights organization from affirming its support for the Democratic presidential candidate.

In an interview with the Associated Press May 19, Kerry signaled what appeared to be a change in policy regarding the selection of judges, saying he had voted to confirm “any number of judges who are pro-life or pro-something else that I may not agree with.”

He drew the line when it comes to a closely divided Supreme Court, however. “I will not appoint somebody with a 5-4 court who’s about to undo Roe v. Wade,” the senator from Massachusetts said. “I’ve said that before.”

Kerry also has indicated before he would not nominate pro-life judges. It appeared to be another example of what has become a Kerry penchant for taking different positions at different times on the same issue. While it could be a calculated effort to reach out to more moderate voters who do not agree with his staunchly abortion-rights voting record in the Senate, his comment brought only a ringing endorsement from a leading pro-choice organization.

“NARAL Pro-choice America knows, based on John Kerry’s record in the U.S. Senate and the positions he has articulated as a candidate for president, that Roe v. Wade would be safe in his hands if he is elected president,” Elizabeth Cavendish, NARAL’s interim president, said in a written statement the same day. “He is an unwavering supporter of a woman’s right to choose. ... The future holds multiple vacancies on the Supreme Court. The only way we can prevent losing our fundamental rights is to make sure John Kerry is elected in November.”

Eleanor Smeal, another abortion-rights leader, was not as affirming.

“He is sending a very confusing message about the importance of reproductive rights,” said Smeal, president of Feminist Majority. “Women’s fundamental rights should not be used as a means of moderating a candidate’s tone for the general elections.”

After the interview, the Kerry campaign issued a statement from the candidate. “I want to make myself clear,” the statement said, according to “I believe that a woman's right to choose is a constitutional right. I will not appoint anyone to the Supreme Court who will undo that right.”

Pro-life advocates remained skeptical of Kerry’s openness to pro-life judges.

If Kerry wins the election, “he has pledged to appoint only pro-abortion judges to the Supreme Court,” said David O'Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, according to

Kerry also appeared to indicate recently he disagreed with the Bush administration’s policy on Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law. A reporter for the Salem (Ore.) Statesman Journal asked Kerry May 18 what role the federal government would play if he becomes president.

“I think it’s up to the states to decide what they’re going to do there,” Kerry said. “It’s a very complicated, thorny, moral, ethical issue that people wrestle with. And I don’t think it’s the government’s job to step in.”

The Bush administration has sought to prevent federally controlled substances from being used in assisted suicides by threatening to revoke the licenses of doctors who prescribe and pharmacists who dispense such drugs for a lethal purpose. A judge has blocked the federal government’s effort.

CATHOLIC POLS RESPOND –- Four dozen U.S. House of Representatives members have entered the controversy over pro-choice Roman Catholics and communion.

The representatives, all Democrats, wrote a letter to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington opposing the refusal by some bishops to give communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. They wrote to McCarrick because he is chairman of a task force of American bishops who are pondering how to handle politicians who violate church teaching.

“We firmly believe that it would be wrong for a bishop to deny the sacrament of holy communion to an individual on the basis of a voting record,” they wrote in their May 10 letter. “We believe that such an action would be counter-productive and would bring great harm to the Church.”

The legislators argued they must sometimes separate “public actions” from “personal beliefs.” Denial of communion could discourage Catholics from entering politics, they wrote. They also said it could encourage anti-Catholic bigotry that caused voters to deny public office to Catholics for many years.

The signers, who included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, said they do not understand how bishops could limit such punishment to the abortion issue. They questioned whether a bishop could deny communion based on a politician’s position on the death penalty or the war in Iraq.

“While we do not question the authority of the bishops, we respectfully submit that each of us is in the best position to know the state of our soul and our relationship to God and our Church,” they wrote. “Therefore, each of God’s children should be the final judge as to whether it is appropriate for them to receive the sacrament of communion.”

While most of the signers support abortion rights, a few -– including Reps. Bart Stupak of Michigan and James Oberstar of Minnesota -– have pro-life voting records.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League of Religious and Civil Rights, rejected the legislators’ arguments.

“Bishops who call upon Catholic legislators to protect the rights of the unborn lest they jeopardize their Catholic standing are simply exercising their episcopal authority,” Donohue said in a written statement May 20. “To suggest that in doing so these bishops are promoting anti-Catholic bigotry is to exculpate the guilty and blame the innocent. If the issue were segregation, would these Catholic Democrats rebuke those bishops who endorsed sanctions against pro-segregation lawmakers?”

In placing abortion on the same level as capital punishment and the war in Iraq, the legislators showed a “profound ignorance,” Donohue said. The pope has taken an absolutist position on neither the death penalty nor the war, he said. “In short, war and capital punishment, while never desirable, may sometimes be necessary,” Donohue said. “By contrast, abortion is intrinsically evil.”

In April, Cardinal Francis Arinze, a leading official at the Vatican, said priests should refuse communion to pro-abortion politicians. He said “unambiguously pro-abortion” Catholic politicians such as Kerry are “not fit” to receive communion, LifeNews reported. “If the person should not receive it, then it should not be given,” Arinze said.

Some bishops in this country have urged Catholic politicians and voters to support the church’s pro-life teaching or not attempt to take communion.

BAN STANDS -– The U.S. House of Representatives has rejected an attempt to rescind the prohibition on abortions in military hospitals overseas.

The House voted 221-202 against an amendment by Rep. Susan Davis, D.-Calif., to permit female service members and female military dependents to have abortions. The women would pay for their own abortions. U.S. policy permits a woman to pay for an abortion in overseas military hospitals if her life is threatened or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

“Although this amendment is presented by the other side as providing for solely self-funded abortions, the fact is the American taxpayer will be forced to pay for the use of the military facility, the procurement of additional equipment needed to perform abortions and the use of military personnel to perform abortions,” Rep. Jim Ryun, R.-Kan., said on the House floor in opposing the amendment. “Military doctors did not sign up to end a baby's life. They joined up to save the lives of servicemen and women. It would be wrong for Congress to force these doctors to perform a procedure that many may feel morally objectionable.”

The ban was repealed during the first Clinton administration, but Congress reinstituted it in 1996. Regular efforts since then by abortion-rights advocates in Congress have failed to rescind the ban.

NO CHANGE ON CELLS -– The Bush administration has affirmed its restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research in response to a letter from more than 200 House of Representatives members seeking liberalization.

Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, wrote the 206 members May 14 to report that President Bush still opposes government funds for such experimentation, according to The Washington Post. For nearly three years, a presidential order has barred federal grants for stem cell research that results in the destruction of embryos. The procurement of stem cells from an embryo only days old brings about the death of the tiny human being.

In the letter, Zerhouni said, according to The Post, “And although it is fair to say that from a purely scientific perspective more cell lines may well speed some areas of human embryonic stem cell research, the president’s position is still predicated on his belief that taxpayer funds should not ‘sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos that have at least the potential for life.’”

The congressional letter, which included the signatures of 36 Republicans, called for Bush to loosen his policy, since fewer than 20 stem cell colonies are eligible for government funding. In his 2001 order, Bush permitted funding for research on the colonies of existing stem cells in which, as he put it, “the life-and-death decision has already been made." Such colonies proved to be far fewer than expected, however.

Though the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and other pro-life organizations oppose embryonic stem cell research, they support the non-harmful use of stem cells from such sources as placentas, umbilical cord blood and adult bone marrow. The use of cell from those sources has produced therapeutic results in some cases.

Stem cells are primitive cells from which cells and tissues in the human body develop. Their discovery in 1998 has provided hope for treating a variety of conditions, including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease and diabetes.

BABY BEFORE GOLD -– An Olympic medal hopeful for Great Britain has chosen life for her unborn child instead.

Tasha Danvers-Smith, the No. 6-ranked, 400-meter hurdler in the world last year, has announced she will not participate in the Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, because of an unexpected pregnancy.

“I had high hopes,” Danvers-Smith said May 4, according to the Telegraph, a London newspaper. “I thought I had a good chance of getting a medal, if not a gold one. I was in the shape of my life. I was more focused than ever before. So it was quite devastating for me to find out I was pregnant.”

She acknowledged her American husband-coach, Darrell Smith, and she briefly considered having an abortion. They were married in November.

“[T]he thought did cross our minds as an option,” she said, before citing Mark 8:36. “But this line from the Scriptures kept coming into my head: ‘For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?’

“For me, the whole wide world was the Olympics. At the same time, I felt I would be losing my soul.”

The baby’s birth is due in December.

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