WASHINGTON, D.C. — As President Bush prepares to leave office after eight years, many pro-life advocates give him credit for significant life-affirming gains during his presidency. But, they say, only a portion of that legacy will survive.
Even Bush’s critics can agree that his judicial appointments will be his most enduring accomplishment. Other gains — such as new federal regulations protecting the conscience rights of doctors — could be very short-lived.
A new regulation protecting health-care providers’ conscience rights was issued Dec. 18 by the Department of Health and Human Services (see Briefs, page 2).
“The most lasting and significant progress made under President Bush is represented by the two Supreme Court justices [John Roberts and Samuel Alito] that he nominated and the Senate confirmed,” said Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life.
“That was the motivation for so many voters who elected the president both times. And it has already paid off, as the Supreme Court upheld the ban on partial-birth abortion,” he said. “Other federal courts, too, have been given men and women who for decades will issue decisions consistent with the moral law, thanks to President Bush.
“Legislatively,” Father Pavone added, “it’s only in the years ahead that we’ll fully appreciate the significance of the progress that was made by the pro-life laws the president signed.”
He cited the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act as another example.
“This drew a line in the sand against infanticide,” said Deirdre McQuade, assistant director of policy and communications for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Pro-Life Secretariat.
The 2002 act “placed into the law a foundation that is essential to eventually making abortion illegal,” Father Pavone explained. “That foundation is that the law can protect a child in his or her first nine months of development, despite a parent’s intention to kill that child. A child who survives a failed abortion is now protected by law. That’s a crucial step forward.”
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum agreed that Alito and Roberts “have proven to be exceptional choices” and that passage of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban was a highlight of Bush’s tenure. “After years of vetoes by President Clinton, President Bush showed the courage to sign the bill that banned this gruesome procedure,” he said.
Although passed in 2003, the law did not take effect until the Supreme Court upheld it in the 2007 Gonzalez v. Carhart decision. Both Bush appointees voted to uphold that ban. “It stood constitutional muster,” said McQuade.
She pointed to the 2004 Unborn Victims of Violence Act as another milestone. “This acknowledged there are separate victims if a mother and her unborn child are injured,” she said. “These three major laws should not be touched by anything President-elect Obama can do. Nothing’s beyond the scope of possibility, but it’s highly unlikely.”
However, she said, other Bush policies will likely soon vanish because they depend on White House approval.
These policies include a prohibition on funding coerced abortion oversees, a limit on federally funding embryonic stem-cell research, and allowing states to provide coverage for prenatal care in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Also facing extinction is the Mexico City Policy, which prohibits U.S. funding to groups that perform or promote abortion as family planning abroad. Clinton scrapped it, and Bush reinstated it.
And just two days before Obama takes office, stronger federal guidelines will take effect to protect the rights of doctors and other health-care workers from having to assist in abortions and other medical procedures based on moral objections. McQuade said the bishops welcome this conscience protection, which Planned Parenthood is already working to eliminate.
Santorum also praised Bush’s 2001 decision to withhold federal funds for human cloning and to limit funding for embryonic stem-cell research.
On that point, American Life League President Judie Brown profoundly disagrees. “George Bush left a legacy of confusion and proved to be a lackluster ‘pro-life’ politician,” she said. “He started off playing Pontius Pilate with human embryonic children, and things never got better.”
Bush kept in place part of the National Institutes of Health guidelines for embryonic stem-cell research. These guidelines prohibit federal money from being used to kill human embryos or for research using embryos specially created for research.
However, the guidelines would have allowed federal funds for research on stem cells obtained by the privately funded killing of “excess” embryos from fertility clinics, but Bush limited federal funding only to those 60 cell lines already in existence.
At the United Nations
This “compromise” was hailed by some for discouraging future killing of human embryos but criticized by many, including the American bishops, as still unethical. The president’s decision allowed research “to continue to cultivate a disrespect for human life,” Brown said.
“The fundamental question with stem cells is: Do you destroy life to save life?” the president said during a Dec. 18 forum of the American Enterprise Institute. “I came down on the side that there are other opportunities available to save lives other than the destruction of life. And secondly, I was concerned about using taxpayers’ money that would end up destroying life.”
Bush said that since the Aug. 9, 2001, decision, adult skin cells have been used to develop the equivalent of embryonic stem cells.
“Bush certainly had a positive impact, especially with his Supreme Court appointments,” said Bill Cotter, head of Boston’s Operation Rescue, “but he really wasn’t a leader for the pro-life cause.”
Cotter, a Catholic, has led semi-weekly prayer vigils outside Boston-area abortion clinics since before Bush took office. “He didn’t adhere to a Catholic understanding of the issue in regard to so-called family planning and contraceptive funding,” Cotter said, “but there’s a night-and-day difference between Bush and Obama.”
As president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), Austin Ruse observed the Bush administration’s struggle in the United Nations. C-FAM’s mission is to defend life and family at international institutions.
“Bush’s lasting legacy will be Alito, Roberts and the judicial appointments that last,” Ruse said. “Honestly, there will be no lasting legacy [at the United Nations], because the Bush administration was profoundly outnumbered. But he did a great thing for eight years in that he stopped big global conferences from happening.”
Ruse said the presence of the Bush administration at the United Nations prevented two global conferences marking the 10th anniversary of the 1994 Cairo conference on population and development and the 1995 Beijing conference on women, both of which had serious population-control issues.
“Bush and his negotiators — particularly Ellen Sauerbrey — were among the bravest in the world,” he said. Sauerbrey was the U.S. representative to the United Nations Commission of the Status of Women, where she focused on improving women’s economic and educational status and the protection of life.
”At times, she stood up completely alone; she was hooted at, hissed at, and booed,” Ruse said. “Their victories are short-lived and will not last, but they were heroic while they did it.”
Gail Besse writes