WASHINGTON—The House of Representatives passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act April 26 with a boost from President George W. Bush.

But, some pro-life analysts asked, was the bill such a victory? Despite the firestorm of political ads and newspaper editorials denouncing the bill as a pro-life “assault on reproductive rights,” the act would not ban a single abortion. It merely enhanced the penalties for an assault on a pregnant woman that causes her to miscarry.

The most controversial part of the bill was its wording: It called an unborn child a child, and talked about taking a life rather than “interruption to the normal course of a pregnancy.”

Is this the best pro-lifers can expect under this president?

In an April 20 interview with USA Today, White House chief of staff Andy Card said that Bush doesn't expect that he will “be able to eliminate abortions.” Card called abortion “a high moral priority for the president,” but not a “public policy priority.”

Teresa R. Wagner, sanctity of life analyst for the Family Research Council, called Card's statements “a great disappointment.” She challenged the administration to “take the lead. It's no answer to say the culture isn't ready—it's the president's job to make the culture ready.”

Mercy Viana, a White House spokeswoman, did not directly address Card's remarks. But, she said, “The president has a consistent pro-life record and believes our goals should be that all unborn children are welcomed in life and protected in law.”

Viana listed Bush's achievements: “In his first hundred days, the president restored the Mexico City policy [barring federal funding for agencies that perform or promote abortion overseas], spoke at the dedication of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, met with cardinals and bishops across the country, and supported the passage of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2001.”

Darla St. Martin, associate executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, cited some other accomplishments. Bush has “appointed pro-lifers to the most critical cabinet positions: we have a pro-life attorney general, and a governor [Tommy Thompson] who signed every pro-life bill that came to his desk in Wisconsin as the secretary of Health and Human Services,” St. Martin said.

St. Martin added that Card's comments were inaccurate. “I know the president,” she said. “He is pro-life. We should judge the man by what he does, not by what some adviser thinks is in his head.”

As for the criticism Bush has not done much, St. Martin told pro-lifers who want more action from the president to “elect a much stronger pro-life Senate next time,” since the 50-50 Senate split between Republicans and Democrats makes it difficult to pass pro-life legislation.

But Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, reminded pro-lifers that Bush has always supported an “exception” to allow abortions for women who are the victims of rape or incest. And she pointed out that the Mexico City policy—which pro-abortion Congressmen are currently seeking to overturn—does not affect abortifacients like the birth control pill.

Bush is “less pro-killing than Bill Clinton,” she conceded sardonically.

Brown called Bush “an enormous disappointment,” citing Tommy Thompson's support of embryonic stem cell research, which requires the killing of embryos to obtain the stem cells, while Thompson was governor of Wisconsin.

However, the National Institutes of Health, which is under Thompson's authority, canceled an April meeting to discuss applications for federal funding of stem-cell research projects. Many observers interpreted the cancellation as a sign that the White House intends to ban any such funding.

And as governor of Wisconsin, Thompson opposed “buffer zones” meant to keep pro-lifers away from abortion businesses. He also supported a bill requiring parental consent for a minor's abortion, a 24-hour waiting period, and a ban on late-term abortions.

The Supreme Court

Meanwhile, speculations continue concerning the Supreme Court. The court's abortion rulings became a key campaign issue. Democratic candidate Al Gore vowed not to nominate any candidates for the court who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Bush, in contrast, insisted he would not use abortion as a “litmus test,” but would nominate only judges who interpreted the Constitution strictly. Bush named Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas—two of the court's most reliable anti-Roe votes—as his favorite justices.

Court watchers have suggested that one of Bush's prime candidates for the next court appointment may not be reliably pro-life. Alberto Gonzales, currently White House counsel, is frequently predicted to be Bush's first nominee, becoming the first Hispanic nominee to the high court.

While Gonzales was on the Texas Supreme Court, he supported a broad interpretation of a loophole in the state's law requiring parental notification for minors seeking abortions. Critics said the loophole effectively dismantled the law.

This murky, complex case is the only “paper trail” Gonzales has left on abortion.

Other potential nominees include J. Michael Luttig and Emilio M. Garza, both staunch opponents of abortion.

Whoever the nominee is, the Family Research Council's Wagner warned, “We are in for a complete circus” if a Supreme Court justice retires, since any nominee must pass the evenly divided Senate.

Predicted Wagner, “The abortion lobby will treat it like the end of the world.”

------- EXCERPT: