WASHINGTON — Many pro-life voters entering the ballot booth last November had a vague hope that a re-elected President Bush would provide their best chance yet of ending abortion in America.

But that dream is giving way to political realities, and some leaders and commentators are are at odds on how the president should approach the issue.

Author and political commentator Ann Coulter in a Jan. 27 column called on Bush to take more decisive action to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion nationwide.

Some pro-life leaders, however, say the president is doing the right thing by picking his battles carefully. Bush would take a step backward by telling the world that Roe has to go, according to Darla St. Martin, associate executive director of the National Right to Life Committee.

“The worst thing in the world that he could do is stand up and make all sorts of threatening noises about how he’s going to ram a pro-lifer right down their [the Senate’s] throat,” she said. “The more you talk about how you’re going to nominate pro-lifers, the less successful you will be at preventing a filibuster. The kind of talk [Coulter] seems to want is very self-defeating talk.”

In his address to March for Life participants gathered to mark the 32nd anniversary of Roe in Washington last month, Bush cited his efforts to promote a culture of life, including passing legislation banning partial birth abortion, restricting human cloning and protecting children born alive during an attempted abortion.

“The America of our dreams where every child is welcomed in life and protected in law may still be some ways away, but … we can see its glimmerings. We’re making progress in Washington. I’ve been working with members of the Congress to pass good, solid legislation that protects the vulnerable and promotes the culture of life.”

Coulter leveled criticism at the president for stating in interviews — and to those gathered for the March for Life — that he’s working to change “hearts and minds.”

“The changing hearts portion of the abortion debate is over,” she wrote. “The only thing we need to do now is start changing laws. A culture of life cannot even begin — much less be sustained — until we change the law and repeal Roe v. Wade. Only then can we tally up how many hearts have been changed.”

There is growing speculation about nominees for one or more Supreme Court vacancies. The New York Sun reported Feb. 14 that former U.S. deputy attorney general Larry Thompson is being mentioned as a potential nominee. The Sun article points out that Thompson is tight-lipped about where he stands on abortion.

Bush also re-nominated 20 federal judges Feb. 14 blocked in the Senate during his first term, some of whom are pro-life.

Cathy Cleaver Ruse, director of planning and information for the Pro-Life Secretariat of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, agrees that overturning Roe is the key battle for pro-lifers.

“Thirty-two years ago the Supreme Court took the issue of abortion out
of the hands of the people and their elected representatives and mandated legal abortion throughout pregnancy,” she said in a statement. “That’s why we work so hard on parental notification and waiting periods and the like — all of which do help to reduce abortion. 

“But in order to strike at the heart of abortion, the court itself must
overturn Roe,” she added. “It has reversed itself scores of times — many people
don’t realize that — and some day it will reverse Roe v. Wade, too.”

Bush told author and syndicated columnist Cal Thomas earlier this month that he’d choose justices for the high court who had “philosophical consistency” in how they interpret the constitution.

“We haven’t had a Supreme Court pick yet, but my record is pretty clear when it comes to picking judges for the circuit bench,” Bush said. “And the record is pretty clear of some people in the United States Senate who don’t want these judges to go forward. And I will call upon the Senate to have an up or down vote. I believe they have a constitutional duty to give an up or down vote to every person I nominate. And they have chosen otherwise. They are filibustering not one, but numerous judicial candidates.”

Norma McCorvey and Sandra Cano, the plaintiffs in the companion cases Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, filed a petition with the high court Jan. 18 to set aside the decisions or at least order a new trial on the merits for reversal.

Overturning Roe is the best possible scenario for those on the front lines of the abortion fight, even though it may mean a heavier workload, according to Kathy Moore, client services director of the Pregnancy Counseling Center serving Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, Mich.

In a post-Roe environment, Moore believes more women will come in for help.

“They will be looking around and asking, ‘What can I do? What are my options?’ So, there will be a real great need for crisis pregnancy services.”

What makes the biggest difference for women who come to the center with a “crisis pregnancy,” Moore said, is for them to see their child via ultrasound.

“Eighty to 90% of clients who have an ultrasound choose life,” she said. “We have two physicians that provide free ultrasounds and all but one of the women I went with [for an ultrasound] chose life.”

In the meantime, pro-lifers like Harold Cassidy believe Bush could do more for the cause.

The president could change a substantial number of hearts if he would reach out directly to women who have been hurt by abortion, said Cassidy, who gained national attention in the 1980s by persuading the New Jersey Supreme Court to invalidate surrogate motherhood contracts in the “Baby M” case.

“He could invite scores and scores of women to the White House who have had abortions,” he said. “He could meet with them, be seen listening to them and hold a press conference with them where those women call for an end to the exploitation of women in this country.”

Patrick Novecosky writes

 from Ann Arbor, Michigan.