Pro-life, pro-family hopes dim in new Congress
WASHINGTON (BP) -- A status quo election has left conservative evangelicals and other social conservatives with little optimism they will see pro-life and pro-family advances by the federal government in the next two years.
The Democrats' retention of the White House and Senate, as well as the Republicans' continued majority in the House of Representatives, appears to do more than set the stage for likely, continued gridlock until at least the 2014 congressional elections. It also seems to place the burden on the House GOP to stop even further intrusions on the sanctity of human life and other socially conservative positions.
"Next year poses significant challenges to progress on many of our greatest concerns," said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). "Efforts to protect the unborn and to defend marriage will be much more difficult, but we will look for every opportunity to do so."
Carrie Gordon Earll of CitizenLink, an advocacy affiliate of Focus on the Family, said the GOP's House majority "will offer somewhat of a firewall to protect life, marriage and religious freedom." She acknowledged in a CitizenLink news article, however, the Democrats' control of the Senate and Obama's executive orders "will be harder to limit, even by a strong House."
In the Nov. 6 election, Senate Democrats increased their slim majority slightly, while House Republicans saw their majority diminish -- although it is uncertain by how much at this point.
The Senate's new alignment will be: 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans and two independents, CNN reported. One of the independents caucuses with the Democrats, and the other -- newly elected Angus King of Maine -- is expected to do so as well. Previously, Democrats had a 51-47 edge, with two independents.
In the House, Republicans led Democrats in seats 233-194, with eight races still undecided as of Thursday (Nov. 8), according to CNN.
Repealing the 2010 health-care reform law -- dubbed "Obamacare" by both supporters and opponents -- appears to be out of the question. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R.-Ohio, hinted repeal seems an unlikely pursuit, telling ABC-TV after the election, "Obamacare is the law of the land."
While their hopes appear dashed in Congress, evangelicals, Roman Catholics and other religious freedom advocates are battling the Obama administration's abortion/contraception mandate in the courts. The mandate -- a federal rule in support of the health-care law -- requires all health insurance plans to cover contraceptives, even ones that can cause abortions, and has a religious exemption that covers churches but not most religious organizations.
Pro-life members of Congress will continue their efforts to protect amendments in yearly spending bills that prevent funding of abortions, but they will again be unable to overturn anything President Obama does by executive order to underwrite abortion providers and promoters.
Tom McClusky, vice president of Family Research Council Action, offered best-case and worst-case scenarios when asked by Baptist Press.
"The best case scenario is that the president understands that half the country didn't vote for him, and there was a reason for that and a very valid reason ... that there needs to be more reaching across the aisle," he said. "And at the same time hopefully the Republicans understand that they need to be more bold."
Conservatives are now where liberals were after the 2004 election, McClusky said. Republicans should "look more to their core" like Democrats did eight years ago, he told BP.
"The worst case scenario is that Republicans don't follow that model and the Republicans start abandoning some of the core principles that are why they still have a majority in the House," McClusky said. "The people elected a divided government, and in a sense that's what the Republicans should give them and tackle the issues that are most important to the American people."
Efforts on some issues "should see more movement," the ERLC's Duke said.
The "growing consensus" of the need to reform immigration law is one of those, he said. "We will advocate that to be just toward everyone affected, immigration reform must include such aspects as border security, workplace enforcement and paths to legal status with appropriate restitution," Duke said.
The ERLC also will be engaged on Iran's threat to become nuclear-armed, intrusions on religious liberty overseas and in this country, and reducing federal debt and the deficit, among other economic challenges, he said.
Most importantly, he said, the ERLC plans to "represent the Lord and Southern Baptists in a way that honors and glorifies the Lord, respects the dignity of everyone we work with and advances the great Gospel mission."
The election broke some barriers in both houses:
-- The number of female senators in the 100-member chamber reached 20 for the first time.
-- Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D.-Wis., became the first open homosexual elected to the Senate.
-- Rep. Mazie Hirono, D.-Hawaii, became the first Asian American female and first Buddhist member of the Senate, according to Religion News Service (RNS).
-- Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, won election to Hirono's seat to become the first Hindu in the House, RNS reported.
The current members of Congress will reconvene Nov. 13 for a lame-duck session before the new year. The focus will be on the "fiscal cliff," as it is known. If Congress does not act by Jan. 1, about $7 trillion in tax increases will ensue as the tax cuts implemented under President George W. Bush expire. In addition, sequestration -- automatic cuts to defense and non-defense spending of $55 billion each -- will go into effect.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).