With the GOP back in control of both the House and Senate, and an anti-abortion president in the White House, activists are insisting that the time for lip service is over and the time for action is at hand. Senate Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, who will control the flow of legislation to the floor when the 108th Congress convenes in January, already has promised to conduct a vote on legislation banning a medical procedure known as dilation and extraction, dubbed partial-birth abortion by activists. He also has voiced support for efforts that would require notification of parents before an adolescent can undergo an abortion.
The White House hasn't responded with as much enthusiasm, although the president has acknowledged his anti-abortion bona fides and hasn't ruled out his endorsement. Scott McClellan, a Bush spokesman, said the president "believes that we need to be a culture that welcomes life at all stages."
McClellan refused to characterize the anti-abortion agenda as resting low on the president's priority list. But he added that Bush's "big priorities are protecting the homeland and strengthening the economy"--issues he intends to deal with first.
Christian conservatives are leaving little doubt that the abortion issue rests high on their agenda and that they expect the president to act, taking credit for the victories that provided the GOP with a two-seat pick-up in the Senate and a five-vote addition in the House. "In close Senate races and in races targeted by pro-abortion liberal forces, pro-life, pro-family issues made a significant difference," said Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council. "Voter turnout among pro-life, religious conservatives was up from 2000, indicating their issues will play a key role in the years ahead."
Conner said supporters can expect the GOP "to advance the social issues agenda," including a partial-birth abortion ban and the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, which provides legal protections for health care providers who choose not to perform abortions.
Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a religious liberty watchdog group that opposes the mingling of religious and governmental affairs, said there is little doubt that anti-abortion activists are "looking for political payback." "With so many religious right-backed candidates winning this year, the movement will have a new set of powerful allies who will be pressured to do the religious right's bidding," Lynn said.
Some Christian conservative leaders are already warning supporters to make sure lawmakers and the administration don't backtrack. Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, said a proposal circulated last year that would have prohibited partial-birth abortions except when the mother's life is in danger was "bogus." Brown said lawmakers will have to remove the mother's life "loophole" or "this well-intentioned effort will not even save a single baby's life."
Anti-abortion activists are not calling on the White House, at least at this point, to lead the effort for a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized abortion rights. "Conservatives should ... manage their expectation," Connor said. "Obstacles remain. Yet President Bush, having achieved a historic victory, is in a very strong position to advance his conservative agenda."