January 11, 2001
volume 12, no. 11
Abortion Battle Continues Over Ashcroft Nomination

    WASHINGTON, DC --(Source: Washington Post from Pro-abortion organizations banded together Tuesday to continue their fight to beat pro-life Senator and prevent him from becoming the next United States Attorney General.

    Ashcroft's pro-life position and strong record on abortion has united pro-life organziations and rallied them to his defense. "If I had the opportunity to pass but a single law, I would fully recognize the constitutional right to life of every unborn child, and ban every abortion except for those medically necessary to save the life of the mother," Ashcroft once proclaimed.

    Since his first run for public office in 1972 -- a year before the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide -- Ashcroft has made unrelenting opposition to abortion a central tenet of his political and legal life, casting his opposition as a religious and moral imperative.

    As Missouri's governor, Ashcroft proposed legislation that would have barred women from having more than one abortion in a lifetime, except to protect a mother's life. The measure, which was not enacted, would have required abortion practitioners to inquire whether a woman had undergone a previous abortion under threat of loss of their medical licenses.

    Ashcroft also backed proposals as governor to ban abortions sought for financial reasons, to avoid marital difficulty or to avoid interrupting a career. He has repeatedly called for reversal of Roe v. Wade, describing the decision as "a miserable failure" that "challenged God's ability to mark when life begins and ends."

    In 1998, Ashcroft and two other senators sponsored a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban nearly all abortions. That same year, Ashcroft signed a letter with seven other senators objecting to coverage of birth control by federal health care plans because contraceptives such as birth control pills and intrauterine devices are "de facto abortifacients" -- meaning they end viable pregnancies, rather than prevent them.

    Abortion advocates argue that Ashcroft cannot be trusted to uphold court rulings and federal laws that enshrine a woman's so-called right to abortion. They fear that Ashcroft will use abortion as a litmus test in crafting legal opinions and recommending judges for the federal bench.

    "He has a demonstrable and unbroken record of opposition to the right to choose, of unremitting hostility to a fundamental constitutional right," said Elizabeth Cavendish, legal director for the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. "The guy has been thinking about how to take away a woman's right to choose for a quarter century. It's hard to imagine him acting contrary to that record."

    Pro-life Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) responded, "Are we going to have a litmus test that if you believe Roe v. Wade was an unsound decision legally that you can't be the attorney general of the United States? I don't think that will disqualify John Ashcroft"

    Kate Michelman, president of NARAL, said, "We are going to oppose [Ashcroft] and oppose him strongly." At a recent Capitol Hill reception, Michelman "confront[ed] and upbraid[ed]" pro-abortion Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), who "suggested" that he would vote for Ashcroft during the confirmation hearings.

    Many pro-life advocates have high hopes that Ashcroft would use the attorney general's post to chip away at Roe.

    "We do not have to be concerned about what he will do with the abortion question," said Pam Manning, president of the Missouri Right to Life Committee, who has worked with Ashcroft for two decades. "It will automatically be handled if you uphold the Constitution and do not expand the Constitution, and John Ashcroft will do that. We are very hopeful."

    As attorney general, Ashcroft could intervene, for example, in a future court case on partial-birth abortion, which he has repeatedly attempted to ban. In the 1980s, the office of pro-life Attorney General Edwin Meese argued in favor of new pro-life laws in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services.

    Legal experts said the extent to which Ashcroft can influence abortion policy as attorney general depends largely on how actively he and Bush want to take on the issue. The attorney general is frequently asked for legal opinions by federal judges and can intervene in other federal cases unbidden.

    Charles Fried, a Harvard University law professor who argued for the plaintiffs in Webster as solicitor general, said the influence of attorneys general on policy, legal rulings and appointments has varied dramatically. "I don't think, for instance, Janet Reno was very influential on judicial appointments, while Ed Meese was extremely influential," Fried said. "It's a question of the personal relationships and of the disposition of the person holding the office."

    Ashcroft's public opposition to abortion stretches back to his first political campaign in 1972, when he narrowly lost a Republican primary for a congressional seat in southwest Missouri. A deeply Christian man whose father and grandfather were Assemblies of God ministers, Ashcroft argued before the U.S. Supreme Court for new pro-life laws as Missouri's attorney general in 1982. Later, as governor, he helped craft the pro-life Missouri law that led to the Webster ruling.

    In 1995, as a freshman senator, he quickly emerged as a leader in efforts to pass laws requiring parental consent for minors seeking abortions, a prohibition on partial-birth abortions and a ban on using federal funds for abortions at managed care facilities. NARAL ranks Ashcroft as one of the lowest scoring senators in its annual voting scorecard, saying that 43 of 44 votes he cast during his six-year term were "anti-choice votes."

    He earned perfect ratings in most years from the National Right to Life Committee and the Christian Coalition, and ranked third among all congressional candidates in the 2000 election cycle as a recipient of money from pro-life groups.

    Ashcroft's views on abortion have caused him to oppose some presidential appointments as well. The Missouri senator led campaigns against two abortion supporters who were candidates for surgeon general, Henry Foster and David Satcher. Foster was defeated, but Satcher was confirmed over Ashcroft's objections.

    In addition, abortion played a role in Ashcroft's decision to quash a federal judgeship last year for Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White, who may be called to testify at Ashcroft's confirmation hearing. Although the Senate debate was dominated by criminal justice issues, Ashcroft said in a 1998 statement that he also opposed White because of "the nominee's manipulation of legislative procedures" in 1992, when White helped kill an antiabortion bill as a Missouri state legislator.

    Ashcroft's opposition to judicial activism undergirds many of his stands on abortion over the years and forms the bedrock of his legal argument against Roe. In a 1997 speech, for example, Ashcroft accused "renegade judges" and a "robed, contemptuous intellectual elite" of usurping congressional and state powers on abortion and other issues.

    "To the so-called leaders who say abortion is too politically divisive, let me be clear," Ashcroft said in another speech that year at a Christian Coalition event. "Confronting our cultural crises is the true test of our courage and true measure of our leadership. It is time for us to reacquaint our party with the politics of principle. We must not seek the deal; we must seek the ideal."

    In the 1998 speech that preceded his South Carolina straw poll victory, Ashcroft capped a stirring condemnation of abortion by holding up two pictures of his grandchild, including one showing a sonogram image before birth, according to media accounts.

    "If the Supreme Court had seen these pictures, would they say it was okay to destroy this grandson of mine?" Ashcroft asked, according to an account in Human Events. "I say no. I say Americans must protect unborn children in the law."

    Ultimately it will be members of the Senate who vote for or against Ashcroft and with the 50-50 partisan split the vote may be close. However, one leading Democratic Senator who might support Ashcroft said he would be confirmed.

    Sen. John Breaux (D-LA), who frequently votes for pro-life legislation, told FOX News Sunday, "I think it will not be unanimous, there will be votes against him. But when the final count is made, he will be confirmed."

For other news stories, see

January 11, 2001
volume 12, no. 11
News on the Church in the USA

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