Close to 40 years ago, Samuel Lee and I became fast friends after we met at a pro-life gathering. Through most of the last three decades, Sam has been a passionate pro-life lobbyist at the Missouri Legislature. His persuasive ability and persistent effort have slowly enticed our state more and more toward the pro-life side in our nation’s bitter struggle over abortion.
One of the landmark achievements of Lee’s lobbying group in Jefferson City occurred last summer, when Missouri passed SB 749, a bipartisan law opposing the highly controversial contraception mandate tacked onto Team Obama’s new federal healthcare law.
The mandate, tacked onto the law by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, requires even churches opposed to contraception and sterilization to provide insurance coverage for birth control to the staffs of their hospitals, educational institutions, and other agencies under the guise of improving women’s “healthcare” options. In fact, the mandate also effectively compels coverage of early abortions in the form of abortifacient drugs wrongly termed “contraceptives.”
Clearly, supporters of SB 749 were not motivated by the constitutional issue of religious liberty alone. This was a bill designed to protect and save life itself. Turning it into a law wasn’t an easy breakthrough.
Even passing the bill did not end the infighting. It took more persuasion by pro-lifers and defenders of religious liberty to persuade the legislature to override a governor’s veto to keep the new law in place. Next SB 749 was challenged by a Kansas City lawyer filing suit with the Cole County Circuit Court in late September in an effort to strike it down.
It may be time to push for similar legislation in other states.
Even with the veto overturned in Missouri, it was far from obvious what would come from roughly a dozen federal lawsuits filed against the HHS mandate by more than 40 Catholic participants, and whether or when their court challenges might wind up before the Supreme Court. It dramatized just how important this issue was. That mandate directly violated the consciences of thousands of U.S. church leaders and staff members, especially at Catholic campuses and agencies covered by healthcare plans.
But meanwhile my lobbyist friend is already at work trying to raise more badly needed funds for Campaign Life Missouri and planning how to get Missouri legislators in 2013 to help restore the Pregnancy Resource Center Tax Credit to help Birthright, ThriVe and 56 other pregnancy resource centers continue their work in our state. It’s a never-ending battle for one of the nation’s leading pro-life lobbyists in a state legislature.
Sam Lee has been far from alone in his skepticism about our new federal healthcare law and the Obama administration’s relentless push to keep Planned Parenthood, our nation’s biggest abortion provider, generously supplied with U.S. taxpayer funds. In a separate letter to her own pro-life supporters, Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of the pro-life group AUL Action, suggested that “Obamacare” may amount to “the greatest expansion of government-subsidized abortion since Roe v. Wade,” due to its potential impact on the use of abortifacients through government-mandated health insurance coverage.
Yoest’s AUL Action communique circulated a valuable fact-checking glimpse of what’s going on in the fight over abortion. The abortion industry has a big advantage over the pro-life movement in raising funds from both the government and major donors. But a recent Gallup poll showed that support for the sanctity of an unborn child’s life has continued to gain strength nationally in terms of numbers, with 50 percent of poll respondents considering themselves pro-life—a nearly 10 point advantage over their opponents. In fact, AUL Action found that only 7 percent of Americans who consider themselves pro-choice now favor abortion “for any reason, at any time.”
A key AUL Action concern is getting more pro-lifers to the polls at voting time. Before she sent out her letter, Yoest learned from one source that as many as half the people who now agree with her organization’s stand on abortion may not in fact be registered to vote. It’s a critical dilemma that prompted the group two years ago to form a plan called Life Counts 2010 to zero in on 12 key congressional races where the pro-abortion agenda of members of Congress appeared sharply at odds with their constituents. The result: In 11 of those races, pro-life candidates won.
Other hopeful trends reported by Yoest should give pro-lifers plenty of encouragement. Among them:
• Nationwide statistics show a 25 percent reduction in the number of abortions performed between 1992 and 2006, the last year when figures were available. Some 400,000 fewer abortions were performed in 2006 than 14 years earlier.
• Last year, there were slightly less than 700 abortion clinics still operating in America. Two decades earlier in 1991, there were still about 2,000 clinics available.
• The Guttmacher Institute, a think tank linked to the abortion industry, found some 92 measures with abortion restrictions passed by the states last year. AUL Action and its sister organization, Americans United for Life, played a direct role in passing 28 of those measures.
Thus, active pro-lifers have little reason to let down their guard or give in to their critics. The latter group includes the media elite, which has for decades largely ignored the beneficial impact of millions of pro-life women in our country, in contrast to the attention their critics in NOW and other groups garner. That’s hardly a tribute to media impartiality in covering abortion and other right-to-life issues.
Lurking behind all this activity on the state and national level is of course the lengthening shadow cast by Roe v. Wade itself. Number me among those journalists who suspect that a persuasive new court case is eventually likely to work its way up to the Supreme Court in a form that prods the court to re-examine the murky reasoning of the seven justices who pushed Roe onto our national stage in January of 1973.
Should Roe be overturned, it will be a belated tribute to pro-lifers like Sam Lee and Charmaine Yoest and their dogged defense of the inherent dignity and sanctity of every human life.
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Richard Goldkamp is a freelance journalist based in Saint Louis.