Advocate Notes Wins, Setbacks for Pro-Life Movement in 2005

Sometimes the best wins barely get noticed, said Wendy Wright, the Executive Vice President of Concerned Women for America, as she recounted some of the victories and setbacks in the 2005 pro-life movement.

Wright specializes in pro-life and international issues at the conservative pro-family public policy group, lobbying the U.S. Congress and United Nations while also acting as a spokeswoman for her organization on many of the same topics. She has appeared on numerous television news programs while her editorials, articles and letters have also appeared in major news publications.

In a phone interview earlier this month with The Christian Post, Wright issued her list of pro-life victories in 2005 that included the U.N.’s declaration against human cloning, which she said received scant media attention. Other pro-life victories she said were the approval of cord blood stem cell legislation, the FDA’s rejection of easy access to the “morning-after” pill, and a growing sense of unease among more and more politicians regarding pro-abortion legislation.

For the setbacks, she noted that the death of Terry Schiavo by court order was one of the setbacks for the movement, along with a stalled bill in the Senate that would prevent anyone other than parents to take a child across state lines to receive an abortion.

Looking ahead to next year, she said that the outcome of the Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of New England parental notification for abortion case in the Supreme Court would be significant.

U.N. Declaration Has Implications for Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The U.N declaration against human cloning passed decisively after a three-yearlong struggle with 84 nations voting for it, 34 against and 37 abstentions. The resolution, however, is not legally binding on the U.N. member states.

The matter addressed by the human cloning statement has a clear application for discouraging the reproduction of babies, which most nations are against. However the vote also has more controversial implications for human embryonic stem cell research, which involves the destruction of an embryo to harvest stem cells. Pro-life groups consider such research to be the equivalent of abortion.

Scientists in favor of the research, say future medical breakthroughs may provide answers for incurable ailments such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even to help paralyzed patients one day regain the ability to walk by repairing spinal cord injuries. Still, after several years of research, potential cures have yet to be found.

Pro-life groups say the research to find cures should not involve the destruction of human lives.

Terry Schiavo Case Grips Nation

The Terry Schiavo case galvanized the nation as nearly 15 years of medical and legal efforts by Schiavo’s parents to keep her alive, concluded with a flurry of court cases and unsuccessful government attempts to intervene.

Schiavo’s parents continued to plead for the life of their daughter – who could not move or speak on her own – in court even after a Florida judge ordered that Schiavo’s water and feeding tube be permanently removed. She died 12 days later on Mar. 31.

Schiavo’s husband, Michael Schiavo, had opposed efforts to keep her alive, asking a judge on two previous occasions in 1994 and again in 1998 to have her feeding tube removed. He believed that there was no hope of recovery and added that his wife would have wanted her own life to end if she had been able to express it.

Schiavo’s parents maintained that as a Roman Catholic, Terry would not have wanted to violate her church’s teachings on euthanasia

Pro-life groups maintained that the result was tragic and an affront to the lives of those who are defenseless.

Wright said that the case wrongly reinforced the “concept that certain people don’t have the right to live and that not all disabled people have the right to live.”

Politicians Express Uneasiness over Abortion Legislation

Overall, however, Wright noted that from a legislative view, 2005 proved to be a year where the pro-life movement gained greater deference from politicians. In a significant spillover effect from the November 2004 elections, she said that politicians began to take note of the significant “values voters” voting block.

She says that such recognition has forced some politicians to distance themselves from embracing “abortion-on-demand” policies, which are being viewed in an increasingly negative light.

Proposed legislation such as the Freedom of Choice Act which may have been viewed more positively 12 years ago is not so today, she said. The Freedom of Choice Act, if passed, would codify abortions. Currently abortion is legal based on the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973, which held that under the Constitution, women have a right to privacy and choice when making the decision to abort or not.

Ayotte Supreme Court Case Has Pro-Life Implications

Looking ahead, Wright said that the decision by the Supreme Court in the Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of New England case could change the landscape for future legislation on abortion. The decision in the case, due next year may affect how judges rule for or against new abortion laws.

She said that courts have been relying on a low standard for ruling that abortion laws are unconstitutional, making it easy to reject laws based on hypothetical situations that do not reflect reality.

The Ayotte case, which was heard by the Supreme Court on Nov. 30, 2005, pitted proponents and detractors of a New Hampshire law that requires physicians to give parents 48 hours of notice when their minor daughter requests to have an abortion. The law would not require the parents' consent.

However, the notification aspect of the law was not the main point of contention in the case argued before the court. Instead, the questioning by the Supreme Court Justices was more specific, centered around the statute’s “judicial bypass” mechanism. In the proposed law, a minor is allowed to have an abortion without a parent being informed only if a judge allows it.

The judges questioned lawyers from both sides about how that judicial bypass would work in emergency situations, since there wasn’t a specific standard or medical exceptions that a physician could refer to in the proposed law.

Ever since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling in 1973 legalized abortion nationwide, part of the standard that the courts have used to see if an abortion law is constitutional is if it contains a health exception or not.

Pro-life groups have argued that the current definition of health – which includes physical, mental and emotional considerations – is so broad that women and girls today are able to obtain abortions for almost any reason.

If the court decides in the Ayotte case that the standard no longer requires an exemption, it could become much more difficult to obtain an abortion, since legislation would become more restrictive.