Casey at The Bat

Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., gave another indication on where he stands on life issues, and his recent vote on the Mexico City Policy was a disappointment to pro-lifers.

(photo: CNS photo: Bob Roller)

WASHINGTON — Pro-lifers were concerned when Democrat candidate Bob Casey Jr. defeated incumbent U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum in last November’s contest in Pennsylvania.

Some of their fears appeared to be confirmed earlier this month, when Sen. Casey voted for the Boxer Amendment, which would overturn President Bush’s pro-life Mexico City Policy.

“If the Boxer Amendment, which Sen. Casey regrettably supported, was enacted, it would force the removal of family planning funds from private organizations that stick to non-abortive methods, in order to give those funds to organizations that are committed to the promotion of abortion,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee.

While both Santorum and Casey campaigned last year as Catholic pro-lifers, it was Santorum who had earned the status of pro-life champion for his consistent defense of unborn life while serving in the Senate from 1992-2006.

In contrast, concerns about the depth of Casey’s pro-life commitment arose during the campaign, when he supported distribution of the “morning-after pill.” The contraceptive drug Plan B, which is taken up to 72 hours after sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy, can have an abortifacient effect if taken after conception has occurred.

“I think it is contraception, and I support it,” Casey said during a campaign debate on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with Santorum. “I think we’ve got to make it widely available.”

Suspicion that Casey was merely a pro-lifer of convenience was alleviated by his Senate votes this year against funding of embryonic stem-cell research and in favor of an unsuccessful effort to allow states to allocate funds from the federal S-CHIP program to unborn children.

And on the same day that he voted for the Boxer Amendment, Casey cast a pro-life vote in favor of renewing the Kemp-Kasten Anti-Coercion law, which prohibits taxpayer funding of organizations involved with coercive abortion or sterilization programs.

However, Casey has also voted against the pro-life line on two other bills, according to the National Right to Life Committee’s Congressional scorecard. Said Johnson, “It’s a mixed picture so far.”

So pro-life advocates watched the Sept. 6 vote on the Mexico City Policy closely, to gauge better where Casey stands.

The policy requires foreign nongovernmental organizations “to agree as a condition of their receipt of federal assistance for family planning activities to neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations.”

It was first announced by the Reagan Administration at a 1984 U.N. conference on population in Mexico City. Bill Clinton repealed the policy in 1993, but it was reinstated by President Bush immediately after his inauguration in January 2001.

Pro-abortion groups despise the policy, which they call “the Global Gag Rule,” and its repeal has been a primary objective of pro-abortion Democrats since their party assumed control of Congress in January. In June, the House of Representatives passed a measure in its foreign-aid appropriations bill intended to circumvent the policy.

The Senate amendment to repeal the policy, introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., came up for a vote Sept. 6 during debate of the Senate’s Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. Casey voted for the amendment, which passed by a 53-41 vote.

The move to overturn the Mexico City Policy is not likely to come into effect, however, as Bush promised in May to veto any anti-life bills passed by Congress.

Casey spokesman Larry Smar told the Register via email that “Senator Casey voted for the amendment because it will provide funding for family planning services while continuing to prevent U.S. funds from being used to promote or perform abortions.” Smar argued that the Helms amendment, which prohibits any direct taxpayer funding of abortion services, “would remain in effect and would prevent federal funds from being used to perform or promote abortion.”

Asked what Casey would say to pro-life Pennsylvanians who are puzzled or disturbed by the senator’s vote against the Mexico City Policy, Smar replied, “Senator Casey is pro-life and has consistently voted in line with those beliefs … His vote was to fund family planning services that will reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and thus reduce the number of abortions. Reducing the number of abortions is something that all Pennsylvanians should support.”

But pro-life leaders insist that the Mexico City Policy does prevent abortions. Whenever taxpayer money is given to pro-abortion groups like Planned Parenthood for non-abortion “family planning” programs, pro-lifers point out, that allows those groups to spend more of the money they derive from other sources on abortion programs.

And according to National Right to Life’s Johnson, the pro-life impact of the Mexico City Policy was acknowledged by pro-abortion lobbyists in an article published by The New York Times in the late 1980s.

Said Johnson, “In fact, one of the pro-abortion advocacy groups said it had brought about a near-halt to the trend towards legalization of abortion in developing countries.”

Helen Gohsler, president of the Pennsylvanians for Human Life chapter in Casey’s hometown of Scranton, said that Casey was not active in the local pro-life movement — in contrast to his father, the late Gov. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania. The elder Casey became a hero to pro-life Democrats after he was barred from speaking at the 1992 Democratic national convention because of his strong anti-abortion beliefs.

But Goshler said that local pro-lifers have been “greatly appreciative” of the younger Casey’s pro-life votes since he was elected, especially his stand on embryonic stem-cell research.

Said Gohsler, “I know that he did get a lot of pressure from the Democratic side to vote for that funding, and he did stick to his principles on that.”

But like Johnson, she thinks Casey is misguided about the Mexico City Policy.

“As a pro-life organization, we don’t have a position on family planning,” Gohsler said. “However, we recognize money for family planning ultimately is going to be mixed in with other funds and is supporting a pro-abortion organization. That certainly doesn’t please us that he has voted in that manner.”

Gohsler said that while losing Santorum from the Senate was clearly a major blow for the pro-life cause, Pennsylvania pro-lifers are taking Casey at his word when he says he is pro-life and want to support him.

In that spirit, Gohsler said, she has requested to meet with Casey and hopes to change his thinking on the Mexico City Policy when they do.

Said Gohsler, “I think Sen. Casey is probably going to need a little more education from pro-life groups on that issue.”

Tom McFeely is based in Victoria, British Columbia.