The Conservative Agenda 2002: Life Issues

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

( - Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans have heard little mention of the cultural issues that usually bring about Washington's most intense political debates. But will the war against terrorism continue to overshadow the cultural issues such as cloning and abortion throughout 2002?

Liberals tried at least four times to use the war against terrorism as "cover" to attach pro-abortion amendments to appropriations bills, according to Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC).

"They did try to advance their agenda in that environment immediately after the terrorist attacks, but they failed," he explained. "The White House issued veto threats on each of these. In the end, the pro-abortion senators had to relent, even though there was very little press attention to what was going on."

Johnson says the most pressing issue for pro-life conservatives in 2002 will be banning human cloning.

"We already have biotech firms in the U.S. that are working day and night to try to perfect the techniques to start creating human embryos by cloning," he said.

Johnson says one firm, Advanced Cell Technologies of Massachusetts, claimed they had already achieved some limited success with human embryo cloning in late November.

"What that firm, and others wish to do is perfect the technique so that they can mass produce human embryos," he said. "Not for the purpose of bringing them to birth, but rather for the purpose of harvesting their stem cells or using them as guinea pigs in various sorts of experimentation."

In July 2001, the House passed Human Cloning Prohibition Act (H.R. 2505) by a vote of 265 to 162. The Senate has yet to consider the measure.

"Senator [Tom] Daschle (D-S.D.) and his allies have sat on that bill ever since," Johnson said.

Daschle reportedly promised Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) in November that the bill will be considered on its own, this February or March. President Bush has said he strongly supports the House version of the bill, and has urged senators to pass it quickly.

But Johnson says the proposal faces an uphill battle in the Senate due to strong opposition from well-financed biotechnology firms.

"If the Senate doesn't act, and fairly promptly, we could pick up our papers some morning soon and read that human embryo farms have been opened up for business in the U.S.," he warned.

Another legislative priority for 2002 is the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (H.R. 503).

"This is a bill that would establish in federal law that unborn children would be legally recognized as human victims when they are injured or killed in the course of violent federal crimes," he explained.

The House voted 252 to 172 in favor of the bill in April 2001. The Senate has still not considered the measure.

Johnson says conservatives in Congress also have a new battle to fight in the effort to ban partial-birth abortions.

"The Supreme Court ruled in the summer of 2000, in effect, that Roe vs. Wade covers even partial-birth abortion," he explained. "But we don't think that's the last word on the matter, and we hope that the Congress will revisit that issue this year."

He points out that the American public strongly supports a ban on the procedure, during which the unborn child's body is delivered while the skull remains in the birth canal. The skull is then punctured and the brain is removed.

The Senate most recently passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in October 1999 by a vote of 63 to 34. The House voted 287 to 141 in favor of identical language in April 2000.

President Clinton had vetoed the bill the previous two times it was passed, and the Senate upheld those vetoes. President Bush has said he would sign the bill into law as soon as he received it.

"We've got overwhelming support in public opinion polls, lop-sided votes in the House, the president urging that these bills be sent to his desk," Johnson added. "The only obstacle is the Senate."

A handful of liberal senators are able to block reform on these issues, he says, because the fight against terrorism and the war in Afghanistan is distracting the public.

"It's very important that these things become the subject of discussion through letters to the editor and people calling local radio talk shows and talking about these issues," Johnson said, "and talking very specifically about what their senators are doing or not doing."