Obama, stem cells and abortion


For the record: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that President Obama had reversed Bush’s policy on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. He has not.

Today’s topic: President Obama has reversed Bush’s ban on federal funding for charities that promote or perform abortions overseas and may do the same for stem-cell research. How much of these actions are just red meat for liberals who expect a dramatic break from the Bush administration? Previously, Hewitt and Estrich debated closing the Guantanamo Bay prison and whether Obama should investigate the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees.

A defeat for pro-lifers, but the debate isn’t over
Point: Hugh Hewitt


President Obama campaigned on a pledge to reverse long-standing U.S. policy on the funding of abortion overseas and to reverse President Bush’s policy on embryonic stem cell research. Elections have consequences, and pro-life conservatives should not be shocked that what candidate Obama said he would do is in fact what President Obama is actually doing.

The president’s actions are not “red meat for liberals,” as the question suggests, but a decisive defeat of the pro-life movement and one that will result in hundreds of thousands of more abortions overseas and the destruction of at least tens of thousands of embryos at home. The pro-life movement has been driven by Obama’s policies to a recognition that it has wholly failed to persuade a majority of the country’s voters that they ought to vote on the basis of protecting life even in its youngest stages.

Princeton University professor Robert George recently declared, “Abortion and embryo-destructive research are at the heart of the divide between the nation’s major political parties,” and he was right. For the moment, the presidency and Congress are controlled by majorities that are at best indifferent to the rights of the unborn, but the debate isn’t over, and the consequences of lassitude on the part of pro-life voters will serve to reignite their energies and refocus their efforts. In the 36 years since Roe vs. Wade, nothing remotely approaching closure on these issues has been achieved or will be achieved because they are fundamental to political life.

During at least the next two years, pro-life activists will have to focus their efforts on the funding of crisis pregnancy centers and the refining and renewal of their political appeal. The abortion rights absolutists would like to project that the 2008 election ended the debate, but in fact they bypassed it. The economic crisis removed a spirited and potentially decisive discussion of these issues after the nomination of Sarah Palin and after high-profile rebukes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joe Biden by Roman Catholic bishops had put the issues at the center of the campaign. The left was lucky to have avoided that debate, but it is not over, and nothing is more certain than the continuation of the effort to persuade moms and the public of the infinite value of the lives they carry within them.

Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University and host of a nationally syndicated radio show aired in Southern California on KRLA-AM (870) and in New York on WNYM-AM (970). His two most recent books are “The War Against the West” and “ GOP 5.0: Republican Renewal Under President Obama.”

Playing politics with the sick is a disgrace
Counterpoint: Susan Estrich

A red meat political issue? No.

This isn’t about red meat. This is about kids who suffer from juvenile diabetes, adults with sharp minds who are trapped in bodies they can’t control and the pain of living with Alzheimer’s disease or loving someone who does. This is about whether it makes more sense to throw away frozen embryos that will never be used by anyone for anything or allow serious scientists the chance to search for cures for diseases. This is about whether women in Third World countries who can’t afford the children they have, are dying of AIDS and may not live to see their kids grow up should be forced to bear yet more children to placate the calls for political purity and the desire for solid voting blocs of cynical politicians in America.

I notice, Hugh, that you don’t quote any phony science claiming that embryonic stem-cell research has no potential to save lives. You treat it as a political debate: Biden versus Palin versus the Catholic bishops. Thanks for that.

I like political debates as much as the next person, but not at the expense of all the kids I know who face a lifetime of needles, infections and the potentially deadly side effects of juvenile diabetes. I watched my mother try to care for the man she loved as he literally fell apart from Parkinson’s disease. I would say it nearly killed her, but that would be an understatement. He died, then she did. I watched my girlfriend take care of her dad who had early onset Alzheimer’s, which means his mind started going when he was younger than you and I are now, Hugh. She tried to care for him in her home because her mother couldn’t, and then when he showed up naked in the kitchen not knowing where he was, she had to find an apartment and a caregiver. When her father died, we all said it was an act of “mercy.”

Some “mercy.” A cure would be mercy. Turning our backs on the possibility of curing these diseases in the hopes of winning a few more votes or capturing an election is a shame. Throwing away frozen embryos rather than taking advantage of their lifesaving potential isn’t pro-life; it’s selfish politics mandated by those who don’t give a damn.

Hugh, if your friends see this as their political salvation, then all I can say is to go for it. Give it a try. This is a debate we will win. And the “we” is not “liberals” or “women” or “Democrats” but every person who has held back tears and bit their tongue as they watched a child, friend or parent waste away and wondered if it could be different.

I respect those who choose not to give birth in difficult circumstances. I am not pro-abortion, and I don’t know anyone who is. Personal choices are just that. The Catholic bishops have no right to tell a 13-year-old rape victim that she must bear the child of the beast who raped her.

My friends say I’ve been too nice in these exchanges. I guess they won’t say that today.

Susan Estrich, national campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis in 1987-88, is the Robert Kingsley professor of law and political science at USC. She is a legal and political analyst for Fox News and a syndicated columnist.