LIFE DIGEST: Obama, pope discuss abortion

WASHINGTON (BP)--President Obama has told Pope Benedict he is committed to reducing the number of abortions in the United States, but his policies so far have done little to support that promise.

Bioethics and life issues such as abortion were a significant part of the conversation when Obama met with the pope privately July 10 for about 40 minutes at the Vatican, Reuters News Service reported.

"Obama told the pope of his commitment to reduce the number of abortions and of his attention and respect for the positions of the Catholic Church," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters, according to Reuters.

A written statement from the Vatican said the discussion between the two men included "the defense and promotion of life and the right to abide by one's conscience."

The pope gave Obama a copy of a recent Vatican publication that explains the Roman Catholic Church's opposition to such practices as embryonic stem cell research and human cloning, Reuters reported.

"We know that [abortion] is a crucial theme for the pope," Lombardi said. "There is no need to hide it. [Giving him the document] was an attempt to be clear. It was not polemical."

Obama has talked about reducing the need for abortion and has made that a responsibility of the restructured White House faith-based office, but he has yet to endorse the Pregnant Women Support Act. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Lincoln Davis of Tennessee and Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, both Democrats, takes a multifaceted approach to reducing abortions by seeking to provide those in crisis pregnancies with information on their unborn child and their options, as well as to offer various forms of assistance.

The president also has reversed some significant pro-life policies, such as bans on funds for both destructive embryonic stem cell research and organizations that perform and promote abortions overseas. In addition, Obama's budget proposal called for restoring abortion funding for the District of Columbia.

PANELS OK ABORTION FUNDS -- Congressional committees voted July 7 and 9 to bolster federal funding of abortion and abortion-promoting organizations. LifeNews.com reported the following actions:

-- The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 15-13 July 9 against an amendment that would have restored a ban on federal and local funds for abortions in the District of Columbia. President Obama's budget called for a repeal of the Dornan Amendment's prohibition on funding abortions. Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., introduced the amendment.

-- The House Appropriations Committee voted 33-26 July 7 to defeat a similar amendment. Reps. Lincoln Davis, D.-Tenn., and Todd Tiahrt, R.-Kan., led the unsuccessful amendment effort.

-- The Senate Appropriations Committee also voted 17-11 July 9 in favor of an amendment to write into law the repeal of a ban on U.S. funding of organizations that perform or promote abortions. Obama already had overturned the prohibition, which is known as the Mexico City Policy, by executive order.

After the Senate panel's votes, Brownback criticized both actions.

"Over 41 percent of pregnancies in D.C. end in abortion which is the highest rate in the nation by a long shot," he said in a written statement. "That's why I am outraged.... The last thing we need in D.C. is more abortions.

"On top of that, we are running over a trillion dollar per year deficit and now the Democrat majority wants U.S. taxpayer money to pay for abortions in foreign countries," Brownback said. "This is ridiculous and offensive."

BRIT COUPLE TAKE LIVES -- A former British orchestra conductor and his wife took their lives July 10 with the aid of a Swiss assisted-suicide clinic, intensifying debate on the issue in Great Britain.

Edward Downes, 85, and his wife, Joan, 74, died with the help of Dignitas, a Zurich-based organization that says it has assisted in the suicides of at least 115 people from Britain, where the practice is illegal.

Downes was nearly blind and was going deaf, while his wife had terminal cancer, according to the Daily Mail.

"After 54 happy years together they decided to end their own lives rather than continue to struggle with serious health problems," the couple's son and daughter said in a written statement, the newspaper reported.

Downes was principal conductor of the BBC Philharmonic from 1980-91 and conducted the first performance in the famous Sydney, Australia, Opera House in 1973, the Daily Mail reported. His wife was a ballet dancer, choreographer and TV producer before becoming his personal assistant.

American bioethics specialist Wesley Smith expressed deep concern. "We are becoming a suicide friendly culture," Smith wrote on his weblog July 14. "I just don't see any other way to look at it."

Britain's House of Lords voted 194-141 July 7 against legislation to protect from prosecution people who help relatives or friends travel overseas to die by assisted suicide.

VIRGINIA BAN UPHELD –- The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld Virginia's ban on partial-birth abortion after panels from the same court twice invalidated the law.

The Richmond-based court voted in a 6-5 decision June 24 to uphold the 2003 prohibition on a procedure that involves the killing of a nearly totally delivered baby usually in at least the fifth month of pregnancy, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

A Fourth Circuit panel had ruled most recently in a 2-1 opinion in May 2008 that the ban on "partial birth infanticide" went beyond a federal prohibition and unconstitutionally restricted the right to abortion. The panel's decision came after the U.S. Supreme Court directed the lower court to reconsider its original ruling in light of the justices' support for the similar, federal law.

Then-Attorney General Bob McDonnell asked the full Fourth Circuit to rehear the panel's ruling in the case, which is Richmond Medical Center v. Herring.


Tom Strode is Baptist Press Washington bureau chief.

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