WASHINGTON — While defeats on ballot initiatives concerning life issues don’t bode well for the pro-life movement in the immediate future, supporters say there are lessons to be learned.

There were 205 ballot questions before voters in 37 states, and Catholic leaders had taken stands on many of them. Voters rejected South Dakota’s law banning abortion, as well as parental notification propositions in California and Oregon.

One of the most closely watched initiatives was the proposed Missouri constitutional amendment that would permit any stem-cell research allowed under federal law — to the point of allowing human cloning, its opponents said.

Abortion supporters were elated by the South Dakota victory. Referred Law 6, a measure passed by the state’s legislators earlier this year but referred to voters when challengers got enough petition signatures to put in on the Nov. 7 ballot, would have banned virtually all abortions in the state. Its only exception was granting immunity to a physician attempting to save a mother’s life and unavoidably killing the unborn child.

“Tonight’s victory belongs to the people of South Dakota who fought back against this political intrusion into personal, private decisions,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a press statement.

When he was bishop of Sioux Falls, Saginaw, Mich., Bishop Robert Carlson had urged Catholics to vote for the ban because, far from its being an intrusion on private decisions, “The Catholic Church has taught from the beginning that the killing of the unborn — burning them with a solution the doctor injects into the womb, cutting them up while still alive in the womb like so much meat, or sucking out the brain in partial-birth abortion — is intrinsically evil, murder and can never be justified.”

American Life League President Judie Brown said the South Dakota loss was “the most devastating of all.”

“We’ve got to learn a lesson from this,” she said.

Some political analysts say the abortion ban likely would have passed if it had included an exception in the cases of rape and incest.

“The loopholes are so few that I don’t think South Dakotans were all that enamored of being the test case for Roe v. Wade with that kind of law,” University of South Dakota political science professor Bill Richardson told the Associated Press.

Some supporters had envisioned a challenge to the law leading to the Supreme Court, with its new pro-life judges, reviewing the 1973 decision that struck down state abortion bans.

But Father Frank Pavone, founder of Missionaries of the Gospel of Life and national director of Priests for Life, said rejection of the ban “does not in any way mean that the people of South Dakota support the current policy of abortion-on-demand that is in effect across our country. In fact, polling showed that the measure would have easily passed if it had contained an exception for rape and incest.”

While supporters of the ban were disappointed, they do not plan to give up the fight to ban abortion.

“We’ll never, never, never give up,” Leslee Unruh, who headed up the effort to enact the law, told supporters after the initiative’s defeat. “Women are being heard all over this nation, and it started here in South Dakota.”

‘Show Me’ Showdown

Missouri’s constitutional amendment protecting embryonic stem-cell research — known as Amendment 2 — narrowly won support from 50.7% of voters.

The Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, a non-partisan group of patient and medical groups, spent more than $30 million to support the amendment. The majority of the coalition’s funding was provided by the Kansas City-based Stowers family who oversee the Stowers Institute for Medical Research.

The debate garnered national attention and ads from prominent Hollywood actors and celebrity athletes. Actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, appeared in a campaign ad in support of the amendment. Catholic actors Jim Caviezel and Patricia Heaton took part in an opposing ad.

Despite opposition from the state’s Catholic bishops, the measure received support from a group of Catholics. Catholics for Amendment 2, led by former U.S. Senator Tom Eagleton, responded to St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke and Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn’s letters to parishioners by encouraging Catholics to support the amendment.

“We believe that Amendment 2 strikes a responsible balance,” said a letter issued by the group, who described the measure as one with “clear ethical boundaries and safety guidelines.”

Missouri’s bishops disagreed.

“This extreme protection of one industry, for something that is inherently and gravely immoral, is unprecedented in any state,” wrote Bishop Finn.

“Voters were lied to,” said Jaci Winship, executive director for Missourians Against Human Cloning. “They were told on the ballot they were banning cloning when, in fact, they were voting to put cloning into the Missouri constitution. We shouldn’t be amending the constitution with just 50.7% of the vote.”

In a Nov. 8 statement, Archbishop Burke said: “The citizens of Missouri have succumbed to a false hope created by a campaign which has played on the desire of us all to help those suffering from deadly diseases and serious injuries.” He said the amendment “will come to be regarded as the bellwether of human cloning” and “will further erode respect for all human life.”

Parents in Dark

California and Oregon voters defeated ballot initiatives that would have required teenage girls to receive parental notification in order to obtain an abortion in those states.

California’s Proposition 85 would have required physicians to notify a parent or guardian when an unmarried girl younger than 18 sought an abortion. It would have imposed a 48-hour waiting period before the procedure could be performed.

Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the California Teachers Association and the Campaign for Real Teen Safety joined forces to defeat the proposition.

It was the second time that such a measure has been defeated in California. The nearly identical notification Proposition 73 failed in 2005.

Albin Rhomberg, spokesman for the “Yes on 85” campaign, credited the loss to the state’s exceptionally low voter turnout. He said there isn’t much motivation to vote when there’s such a liberal stranglehold in the state’s Legislature.

“Seventy-five percent of Californians support the concept of parental notification,” said Rhomberg. “Yet, only 43.9 % of registered voters voted. It’s hard to get people to go vote on a ballot initiative.”

And yet he said there was value in the campaign raising the issue. Said Rhomberg, “Perhaps there will be a greater wakeup about these things.”

He pointed out that the proposition won in 41 of 80 assembly districts and 27 of 50 congressional districts. Rhomberg expects that the initiative will reappear. “We put an enormous amount of time getting the language just right,” said Rhomberg. “We’ll try it again in June of 2008.”

Tim Drake is based in

St. Joseph, Minnesota.