WASHINGTON—There is an age-old inclination in ruling bodies to substitute politics for principle in the name of legislative expediency. Sam Rayburn, the “old guard” of the House of Representatives, immortalized this spirit in American politics by regularly advising freshmen members, “If you want to get along, go along.”
But Compromise is anathema to some legislators on certain issues. Sen. Robert Smith (R-N.H.) argues that politics and parties without principle are immoral, so he is taking a stand on abortion policy.
Smith introduced uncompromising legislation in the Senate June 5 to protect the right to life from conception until death. The two-pronged maneuver consists of the Human Life Act of 1998 and the reintroduction of the Human Life amendment to the Constitution. The senior senator from the Granite State hopes votes will be scheduled by the end of the current session but concedes that it is not at the top of the leadership's agenda during the few days left for votes.
The Human Life Act stipulates that “the right to life is the paramount and most fundamental right of a person.” The Human Life amendment, first introduced in 1981 by Sen. John East (R-N.C.), would append the right to life to the actual text of the U.S. Constitution, thus eradicating any of the current wrangling about contradictory legal interpretations. Both measures would effectively overturn the right to abortion created in Roe v. Wade. Sens. Jesse Helms (RN.C.) and John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) are early co-sponsors.
Smith admits the chances for his legislation to pass are slim at the moment, but argues that frequently articulating the moral case against abortion is imperative to changing public opinion.
“I'm going to dedicate the rest of my Senate career trying to get to people's hearts through education,” he told the Register.
Smith has made a career and almost lost it fighting for the right to life. Since being elected to the House in 1984 and moving up to the Senate in 1990, he has pushed countless pro-life bills, authored the original partial-birth abortion ban in 1995, and was the floor leader for the Hyde Amendment in 1993, which forbid federal funds being used to pay for abortions.
Pro-abortion groups listed Smith as one of their top targets in the 1996 general election, but he narrowly won reelection (by a 2% margin). The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) have continuously bankrolled his opponents, with no success.
“I survived a tough reelection by not running away from the truth,” the senator said. “You have to stand on your beliefs and let the chips fall where they may.”
Abortion is a contentious issue within the Republican Party at large. Astrike against the “big tent” philosophy of abortion conciliation failed in January when the Republican National Committee voted in Palm Springs, Calif., not to de-fund party candidates who support partial birth abortions. Other party leaders, such as Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), consistently campaign for pro-abortion politicians within the party. Smith disagrees with any move that belittles the abortion fight, rhetorically saying: “What are we winning if we have to compromise our basic principles to gain a majority? We are like a hamster on a treadmill: always running but never going anywhere. I would not fund pro-abortion candidates and we should not campaign for them.”
In abortion-related legislation in the other chamber, Rep. Chris Smith (RN.J.) introduced a bill June 16 to end the family cap that is attached to welfare payments. Under current laws intended to curb childbirths by mothers on welfare, 21 states have cut off the additional monthly allowance traditionally given to needy families that are growing.
However, a $1 million report concludes that increased abortion rates have occurred as a terrible consequence to this policy change. In a December 1997 study commissioned by the Department of Human Services in New Jersey, Rutgers University researchers determined that 240 more abortions per year have resulted in the Garden State alone since new welfare laws were enacted in 1992. Smith's anti-family cap bill is dividing factions in Washington that favor welfare reform over pro- life protections.
June has been a active month for pro-life legislation. The Child Custody Protection Act, H.R. 3682, was passed out of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution by a lopsided vote of 7-2 and is now being considered by the Judiciary Committee. The bill, authored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), makes it illegal to transport minors across state lines to avoid another state's abortion laws. Hearings on forced abortions in China dominated Congress (see front-page story).
St. Basil the Great wrote that “Whoever deliberately commits abortion is subject to the penalty for homicide.” Following this dictum, Smith is leading the stand against abortion in Congress. Enactment of either the Human Life Act or the Human Life amendment would make the protection of all human life the law of the land.
Brett Decker writes from Washington, D.C.