Right-to-Life Congressional Priorities for 1998: Statement by Douglas Johnson, NRLC Federal Legislative Director, January 22, 1998.
Washington, D.C., on January 22, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. When we stood before you here one year ago today, we explained that the two top legislative priorities of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) during the 105th Congress would be, first, enactment of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, and second, defeat of any so-called "campaign reform" bills that would restrict our right to speak to the public regarding the positions and actions of specific politicians on right-to-life issues.
Over the past year, there have been very significant developments on both of those issues, but in each case, the final legislative outcomes for this Congress remain in doubt. I would like to briefly outline the status of these two issues, which remain top-tier priorities for our organization during 1998. I will then describe a third legislative priority, a new piece of legislation we will be publicly discussing today for the first time -- the Child Custody Protection Act.
Our focus here today on these three issues should not be understood to suggest that these will be the only issues of major significance to NRLC during the 1998 congressional session. There are other weighty matters to be dealt with.
For example, pro-life leaders in Congress, led by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), will renew their efforts to curb the Clinton Administration's use of the foreign aid program to promote the legalization and expansion of abortion in the developing world -- and we will strongly back their efforts. [See Action Box, page 13.]
Another example: NRLC strongly supported the enactment of the current law that prohibits federal funding of harmful experimentation on living human embryos; we also oppose such harmful experimentation when it is done with non-government funds. Recently, many press reports have said that President Clinton supports a five-year "ban" on human cloning, but this is not accurate. In fact, the President has proposed legislation that would allow individual members of the human family to be created by cloning, used for harmful experimentation, and then destroyed.
In other words, President Clinton's proposal in effect authorizes human cloning but only if the cloned human beings are killed or allowed to die without being implanted in a womb. NRLC will strongly oppose any attempt to persuade Congress to embrace the ideological fantasy that embryonic human individuals are something :other than "human beings" and therefore may be treated like laboratory mice or frogs.
[See page 21. of this issue for the text of NRLC's February 5 letter to the U.S. Senate regarding the cloning issue.]
PARTIAL-BIRTH ABORTION BAN ACT
In June 1995, Congressman Charles Canady (R-Fl.) focused a spotlight on one of the many grisly facets of abortion practice in America, when he introduced a bill to ban the specific abortion method in which a living baby is partly delivered, feet first, before being killed by the puncturing of the skull with a surgical instrument and the removal of brain matter with a suction machine. Since then, this act -- the killing of a partly delivered baby -- has been defined in the laws of 17 states by the legal term of art partial-birth abortion. Congress has also twice passed legislation to place a national ban on partial-birth abortion.
When we stood before you a year ago, it was not long after the Senate had sustained, by an eight-vote margin, President Clinton's first veto of the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. We noted that the results of the 1996 election had not greatly changed the balance of forces in Congress, but added that in our view, the prospects for enactment of the bill during the new Congress really hinged on whether the American people would begin to receive more accurate information regarding the practice of partial-birth abortion.
We quoted a few of countless examples of major news outlets uncritically accepting and reporting as fact the abortion industry's manufactured claims that partial-birth abortions were performed rarely and only in dire medical circumstances. [Typical of many such claims was a letter opposing the bill that was sent to Congress by NARAL, Planned Parenthood, The Alan Guttmacher Institute, the National Abortion Federation (NAF), and other groups, stating, "This surgical procedure is used only in rare cases, fewer than 500 per year. It is most often performed in the case of wanted pregnancies gone tragically wrong...."]
Such claims, we pointed out, were disproved by a substantial body of readily available evidence, including published interviews with various abortionists who had pioneered the partial-birth method. We also noted that even with respect to the small fraction of cases involving women whose babies suffered from grave disorders, eminent medical authorities rejected the procedure as medically unnecessary and indeed risky for the mother.
The validity of our assertions has been amply demonstrated by events of the past year. Only days after that press conference, the general performance of the media in covering the partial-birth abortion issue was strongly critiqued by the PBS documentary program Media Matters. The producers concluded that many major organs of the press had uncritically presented as fact the unsupported assertions of the pro-abortion lobby regarding the prevalence and typical circumstances of partial-birth abortions, while ignoring evidence put forward by supporters of the bill that contradicted those assertions.
The validity of the Media Matters critique was further underscored several weeks later in a series of interviews given by Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, an association of about 200 abortion clinics. In interviews first with American Medical News and then with The New York Times, Mr. Fitzsimmons said he had "lied through my teeth" when he claimed that partial-birth abortions were performed rarely and in exceptional circumstances. As The New York Times reported, "As much as he disagreed with the National Right to Life Committee ... he said he knew they were accurate when they said the procedure was common .... In the vast majority of cases, the procedure is performed on a healthy mother with a healthy fetus that is 20 weeks or more along, Mr. Fitzsimmons said." Asked why he earlier told journalists information that he knew was false, Mr. Fitzsimmons explained, "I just went out there and spouted the party line."
But Mr. Fitzsimmons was not the architect of that "party liner It was the top leadership of the major pro-abortion advocacy groups -- NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and NAF -- who developed and promulgated that concerted campaign of misinformation.
That smokescreen of misinformation was so widely disseminated by so many voices of supposedly impartial authority that it still, to a degree, clouds the perception of many Americans regarding this issue. But slowly the truth is sinking in, and the movement to prohibit partial-birth abortions continues to grow.
Last May, the American Medical Association (AMA) endorsed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, after sponsors of the bill agreed to make minor clarifying revisions. In a May 19 letter to Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), AMA Executive Vice President P. John Seward, M.D., said, "Thank you for the opportunity to work with you towards restricting a procedure we all agree is not good medicine."
In 17 states, bills to ban partial-birth abortions have been enacted. Many of these bills are under legal challenge, but no court has yet considered the legal arguments of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee as to why such a ban should be upheld even under Roe v. Wade. If President Clinton's veto is overridden this year, then the federal courts should squarely address the question of the constitutional status of human beings who are only inches away from achieving legal live birth status when they are brutally killed. [See "Call It Partial-Birth Abortion -- It's the Law!" June 19 NRL News, page 6, and "Ohio `Brain Suction' Law, Struck by Court, Differs Greatly From Partial-Birth Abortion Laws,." Dec. 9 NRL News, page 8.]
Each time the bill has come up in the House and Senate, the level of support has grown. We expect that the House will vote to override the President's veto with some votes to spare. In the Senate, the vote on May 20 was 64-36 -- still three votes short of the necessary two-thirds margin. NRLC and other organizations supporting the bill will renew and redouble our public education and lobbying efforts this year, in the hope of obtaining those additional votes. It is an uphill fight, but success is not outside the realm of possibility, considering that support for the ban in the Senate grew by 10 votes between December 1995 and May 1997.
President Clinton and his Senate allies enjoy one important advantage, which is the tendency among many news outlets to greatly minimize the profound differences between the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and the alternative legislative proposals that have been endorsed by Mr. Clinton, these being the Hoyer-Greenwood Amendment in the House and the Daschle Amendment in the Senate. These proposals are often inaccurately described by reporters as banning partial-birth abortions except those performed for "health" reasons. That is a distortion, because the Hoyer-Greenwood and Daschle proposals, on their face, have no application whatever to cases in which the government cannot prove that a given baby's lung development placed that baby past the point of "viability." The vast majority of partial-birth abortions are performed in the fifth and sixth months of pregnancy, and therefore would be entirely untouched by the proposals endorsed by the White House.
Even after the point that a specific baby's pre-abortion "viability" might be established beyond a reasonable doubt -- the final three months of pregnancy -- these "phony bans" would allow partial-birth abortions to be performed at any abortionist's discretion. Regarding the Daschle Amendment, late-term abortionist Dr. Warren Hem, author of the standard text Abortion Practice, told the Bergen Record (May 14, 1997), "I will certify that any pregnancy is a threat to a woman's life and could cause grievous injury to her physical health."
Clearly, the public is overwhelmingly opposed to partial-birth abortion, regardless of the exact stage of lung development of the baby subjected to this brutal procedure. To the degree that the public becomes aware that the alternatives pushed by opponents of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act are merely political shams that would leave partial-birth abortion virtually unrestricted, our chances of overriding the veto are enhanced.
"CAMPAIGN REFORM" AND FREE SPEECH ABOUT POLITICIANS
A year ago today, we explained that we would vigorously oppose any so-called "campaign reform" bill that would restrict our rights, under the First Amendment, to speak to the public regarding the positions and actions of specific politicians on right-to-life issues.
A year later, we feel that we have made some headway in highlighting the degree to which most of the pending so-called "campaign reform" bills would do just that. But much of the coverage of this facet of the campaign-reform issue remains superficial and often contains distortions regarding both current law and the legislative proposals.
The latest version of the McCain-Feingold bill, for example, contains layer upon layer of restrictions on speech by citizen groups about politicians. Most of the press attention has focused on a provision that would prohibit any type of organization, other than a federal political action committee, from daring to even mention the name of a member of Congress, or candidate for Congress, in a broadcast communication to the public for 60 days before any primary or general election.
But the bill contains other restrictions on free speech about politicians that are even more sweeping and that apply year round. Printed voter guides and scorecards containing commentary or value judgements on issues would be banned, except those put out by PACs. Moreover, in a provision almost entirely ignored by the press, even ads that refer to no candidate would be re-defined as illegal campaign contributions, if they advocate a position that is deemed to be "of value" to a legislator or other candidate with whom the sponsoring organization has had virtually any manner of two-way communication, at any time of the year. [See October 21, 1997 NRL News, page 13.]
Of the thousands of state and local right-to-life groups in the nation, only a handful have the resources to handle the complexities and regulatory burdens of operating a federal political action committee. Therefore, to allow no organizations other than PACs to comment on the actions of federal politicians -- which is the net effect of the McCain-Feingold bill -- would effectively gag most citizen-activist groups, such as those that make up the backbone of the pro-life movement. Yet commentary regarding elected officials is at the heart of what the First Amendment protects.
This is not a peripheral issue for us. We believe it is essential that we be allowed to speak directly to the public about upcoming legislative votes and about the actions of specific politicians on issues of concern to us. We do not believe most Americans want to give politicians and political appointees control over the amount, tone, and timing of what we say to the public about their positions and their actions. [See "Do American Voters Need Speech Nannies?" September 30, 1997, NRL News, page 1.]
In order to engender a more informed public debate, last fall NRLC ran radio ads in nine states, criticizing specific lawmakers for their sponsorship of bills to restrict our speech to the public about politicians' positions. These ads criticized members of both parties, some pro-abortion and some anti-abortion, for their proposals to regulate speech about politicians. [See November 18, 1997, NRL News, pages 6-7, and "NRLC Responds to the League of Women Voters' Push for Gag on Others' Speech About Politicians," on page 13 of this issue.]
We expect to renew our public education efforts in anticipation of votes during the next few months on the McCain-Feingold bill in the Senate and various speech-restriction schemes pending in the House. NRLC will continue to work with other groups that vigorously defend the right to free speech about politicians, including the Christian Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the NRA -- and all three of those groups, by the way, expressed approval of our references to their opposition to these bills in some of our recent radio ads. [For information on upcoming Senate and House action on bills to restrict free speech about politicians, see the Action Request that begins on the back cover.]
CHILD CUSTODY PROTECTION ACT
NRLC enthusiastically endorses a brand new piece of pro-life legislation that will soon be introduced in the U.S. House and Senate, entitled the Child Custody Protection Act.
[For the latest developments on this bill, see the story that begins on page 1 of this issue.]
The lawmakers involved in the preparation of this legislation are Senator Spencer Abraham (R-Mi.) and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl.), as well as Congressman Charles Canady (R-Fl.), the chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee. With Congress in recess, none of these lawmakers were able to join us here today, but they have consented to our discussing the legislation. Senator Abraham and Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen have sent printed statements, which you will find in your press kits.
This proposal would make it a federal offense to transport an individual age 17 and under across a state line for an abortion if this action circumvents the application of a state law requiring parental involvement in a minor's abortion (or judicial waiver of such requirements).
Twenty-two (22) states have laws in effect that require the notification of, or consent by, at least one parent (or authorization by a judge), before an abortion can be performed on those below the age designated by the state. (The 22-state figure does/not include what we call "parental circumvention" laws, which allow notification to or consent by persons other than parents or legal guardians, and/or that allow abortionists to waive notification/ consent requirements for reasons other than medical emergencies.)
However, these laws are sometimes circumvented by adults who transport minors to abortion providers in neighboring states which do not have parental notification or consent laws. In some cases, the adults involved in this activity are associated with abortion providers. In other cases, the adults involved seek to assist minors in concealing abortions from their parents for a variety of motives, including concealment of statutory rape or other criminal activity.
A recent criminal prosecution in Pennsylvania illustrates how outrageous these violations of parental rights can be. This case (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Hartford) involved an 18-year -old man who had a sexual relationship with a 12-year-old girl. The girl became pregnant. Pennsylvania law requires parental consent prior to the performance of an abortion on a minor. Nevertheless, the man's mother took the girl (who had just turned 13), without her mother's knowledge (the mother did not even know her daughter was pregnant), on a school day, and transported her 60 miles to an abortion clinic in New York, where an abortion was performed. Pennsylvania authorities prosecuted this woman, who was convicted of interfering with the custody of a child. Her son pled guilty to two counts of statutory rape.
Most significantly, at trial and on appeal, this woman, Rosa Hartford, has been represented by the leading pro-abortion legal defense organization, the New York-based Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (CRLP). A central element of the CRLP's defense is that the conduct of Rosa Hartford was protected by the U.S. Constitution, because Hartford did no more than help the girl exercise her constitutional "right to abortion" under Roe v., Wade. As the CRLP put it in one brief, "this case asks whether the thousands of adults who each year aid young women in exercising their constitutional right to an abortion can be put at risk of prosecution."
CRLP attorney Kathryn Kolbert said in an interview that her client is "an individual [who] has assisted a woman [sic] to exercise her constitutional rights." Adults engage in such activity "thousands" of times, Kolbert said, adding, "How does a 14-year-old get to New Hampshire from Boston without getting a ride? [Associated Press, Sept. 16, 1995.]
This constitutional argument was rejected by the Pennsylvania trial court and by a state appeals court. The appeals court held that "although a parent's right to make decisions for her child is tempered in the instance of abortion, at least in Pennsylvania that parent has the legitimate expectation that procedural safeguards designed to protect the minor will be observed," that is, that "another responsible adult (i.e., a judge) will provide some oversight to that decision." (However, in October the appeals court remanded the case for a new trial due to erroneous jury instructions.)
At some point, the CRLP may present a federal court with its argument that adults have the right to, take minors across state lines, without parental knowledge or consent, in order to procure abortions -- even in cases involving pregnancies resulting from criminal activity. By enactment of the Child Custody Protection Act, Congress would take a clear stand against this bizarre notion that the U.S. Constitution confers a "right" on strangers to take One's minor daughter across state lines to get a secret abortion, even when a state law specifically provides for the involvement of a parent or judge in the daughter's abortion decision.
Enactment of the bill would greatly reduce the circumvention of state parental involvement laws, thereby protecting all of the compelling interests that the state legislatures recognized in enacting those laws in the first place. This includes the need for parents to be aware that their minor daughter may be subjected to a surgical procedure and/or the administration of drugs that could be dangerous in light of medical history unknown to the minor herself.
In short, federal legislation is warranted because of the acknowledged scope of the practice, and because of the profound physical and psychological risks of an abortion to a minor. As the Supreme Court has observed, "[T]he medical, emotional, and psychological consequences of an abortion are serious and can be lasting; this is particularly so when the patient is immature." [H.L. v. Matheson, 450 U.S. 398, 411 (1981).]
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|Publication:||National Right to Life News|
|Date:||Feb 11, 1998|
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