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Human Life Amendment: Realistic or Not?

ve8QAd   |   July 01, 1999

Is the goal of a federal Human Life Amendment still a realistic expectation of the pro-life movement, or are we to listen to the media, which has consistently stated that all hope is lost? We’re being told that the pro-life movement has abandoned the goal of a Human Life Amendment, while being praised by the media for re-evaluating and taking a more realistic stand in terms of our expectations. Paul Weyrich, a leading pro-life conservative, has given up. Others have joined the chorus of those who are pessimistic.

Much is being said of how Republican candidates for president are no longer backing an amendment to ban abortions. If you read the fine print they are not denying their theoretical support for it, but they are saying that it’s hopeless, it’s not capable of being achieved and that we should content ourselves with lesser steps along the way.

Leslie Stahl, in May on 60 Minutes, sounded the party line of the liberals. She said, “A funny thing is happening these days to the Christian right, and it sounds like a defeat… Twenty years and many political victories later, abortion is still legal, school prayer is still banned, there’s more tolerance of sexuality, and even the dreaded National Endowment for the Arts, attacked as purveyor of pornography, has survived.”

Sadly, the two major Democrat candidates for president are solidly pro-abortion and oppose a Human Life Amendment. Still, of all the Republican candidates, only one, Lamar Alexander, has specifically stated that he doesn’t support a Human Life Amendment. Bush, Dole and McCain speak of support but push it off into the unforeseeable future. Forbes, Quayle and Kasich would support one with a rape-incest amendment. Only Bauer, Smith and Keyes would hold out for a comprehensive federal amendment with only a life of the mother exception.

To gain a good perspective, let’s review a bit of history. The decisions to legalize abortion were in January 1973. Immediately after that, the fledgling pro-life movement brought together attorneys, physicians and others who asked themselves the question, what are we to do? At that stage the judgment was that the court would not reverse itself for perhaps another half-century. The only answer then was an amendment to the Constitution. This was critically studied and debated over the next year. The pro-life movement finally settled on two sets of wording. One did not have an exception for the life of the mother. The other had the wording, “to prevent the death of the mother.” That was the stated specific goal of the movement in 1974.

The rubber met the road when Reagan was elected and it was presumed that there were pro-life majorities in the House and Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee held extensive hearings on versions of a Human Life Amendment. One was a sweeping federal amendment. The other simply reversed Roe vs. Wade (Hatch Amendment) and returned the judgment to the states. The third was the original “Paramount” without a life of the mother exception. After extensive hearings, when the Hatch Amendment finally came to a vote, it failed. The others were not voted on.

Through the 80’s it was evident that the pro-life movement did not have enough strength in the Congress to vote out a federal Human Life Amendment, but we were gaining strength on the US Supreme Court. Optimism ran high as Supreme Court Justices were slowly replaced. It peaked with the Casey decision and plummeted when this not only failed to reverse Roe, but also in certain ways reinforced it. It did, of course, allow gradual restrictions, and that part of it was a victory.

Through the 90’s, these restrictions have multiplied throughout the states and continue to be attempted at the federal level. These include parental notification and consent, informed consent, waiting periods, clinic regulations and others. The one achievement at the federal level, slowly accomplished during the 80’s and largely maintained in the 90’s, was the banning of federal funding for abortion.

Attention must be drawn to Bob Dole’s rejection of the Republican Party plank in 1996, which called for such an amendment. Many believe his comment that he hadn’t read it cost him the election. Minimally, it cost him the votes of millions of crossover Democrats whose major motivation for voting for a Republican president was the abortion issue. When Dole caustically stated that that was not on his agenda, these folks saw no reason to vote other than Democrat and went ahead and elected Clinton.

At first glance, in the presidential election of 2000, we have a near triumph when we consider the Republican candidates. Remember the 3 W’s during last presidential election – Wilson, Weld and Whitman? They were strongly pro-abortion Republicans and got nowhere. This time we have no pro-abortion Republicans like them. Even Lamar Alexander, the only one who does not support a Human Life Amendment, nevertheless has spoken in support of literally every one of the steps along the way.

Clearly, if there is a choice of candidates at this time who are truly contenders, the public media has chosen George W. Bush. Let’s look at his actual words and those of Elizabeth Dole, the other top Republican contender.

Elizabeth Dole says she supports a constitutional amendment banning abortion, but apparently not enough to do anything about it. In late April, she told reporters that the debate over such an amendment was “divisive and irrelevant…the amendment is not going to pass…rather than engage in dead-end debate, let’s move forward to get some positive things done for this country.”

The decisions are not all in on George W. Bush. He has certainly worked hard in this session of the Texas legislature for pro-life legislation, particularly parental notification. He has also appointed a solid, dynamic pro-life physician, Reyn Archer, to head the Texas Department of Health. But some of his actions have also gone the other way. As for a Human Life Amendment, he’s not quite as pessimistic as Elizabeth Dole above, but nevertheless sounds the same note. When nailed down on the amendment, he was asked, “Does this mean if it were up to you, that all abortions would be constitutionally banned?” “Yes” he said, “except for the life of the mother, rape or incest.” That being said, there are many voices who question how vigorously he would push for this, and, far more important, what his appointments would be like.

It is quite clear that the secular media is trying everything possible to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, i.e., that the pro-life movement has abandoned an amendment as impossible. They have also found a few pro-life voices to agree to such a prognosis. Quite to the contrary, however, there is little evidence to confirm this wish of the pro-abortion media. Rather, as we look at the movement, we see two commonalties: 1) Most now agree that we will not get a Human Life Amendment in the next few years. 2) Such an amendment, however, has not been abandoned or rejected but remains the very heart of the ultimate goal of the pro-life movement.

For some, perhaps at this time it remains only a symbol. But even if only that, it is of crucial importance. The Republican platform comes to mind immediately. It would be devastating to the pro-life movement if the Republicans change it and indicate that they will ultimately settle for something less. It would cut the very heart out of the efforts of millions of people who have stood solidly behind this as an ultimate goal. For people who in their hearts are totally convinced that abortion is the killing of an innocent child and that abortion must be stopped, this is an absolute. They will ultimately settle for nothing less.

There is of course another option, and that is a total reversal by the Supreme Court. With the prospect of the possible election of a president in 2000 who will be supportive, this president could replace several Supreme Court Justices. But assuming the Court even reverses Roe, that only returns the situation to status quo ante. That would simply allow the many states, which now have pro-abortion laws, to continue the slaughter. It is possible that the Supreme Court could not merely reverse Roe, but move beyond. It could some day interpret the Constitution as protecting the unborn. In such case, the Supreme Court could do the same job that an amendment would be designed to accomplish. However, this remains but a dream at this time.

Realistically, pro-lifers acquainted with the mood of this country would share a judgment that a constitutional amendment is extremely difficult to obtain. In all pragmatism, one has to understand that it will not happen until a strong, super majority of people in this country support it. Happily, we are slowly moving in that direction and against all odds. However, we are certainly not there yet. The road ahead is very long, but that does not mean that we should take our eyes off our ultimate goal. To those candidates who say that we do not have a chance for an amendment this year, we must ask the following question. “Yes, we understand that, but do you agree that the ultimate goal of this movement is to protect all babies’ lives from conception, while at the same time providing generously whatever help these mothers need in that troubled time of their life?”

This is the position of the vast majority of people in the pro-life movement. It should be the policy of the candidates we support.


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