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YEAREND-LIFE Dec-11-2006 (860 words) With logo and photos. xxxn

Embryos and abortion: Pro-life agenda has a year of highs and lows

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- It was a year when President George W. Bush used the first veto of his nearly six-year presidency to strike down legislation that would have expanded federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research.

But it was also a year when Missouri voters "lost a significant battle for the protection of human life," as the state's Catholic bishops put it, by approving a ballot question that would permit any stem-cell research allowed under federal law -- to the point of allowing human cloning, its opponents said.

It was a year when the South Dakota Legislature passed the nation's first state law to ban nearly all abortions since the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade legalized abortion virtually on demand. But voters in the state overturned the law later in the year.

It was a year that offered hope that the partial-birth abortion procedure might one day be permanently banned in the United States, as the Supreme Court considered arguments against it. But it was also a year when abortifacient drugs such as the French abortion pill RU-486 and the Plan B "morning-after pill" gained wider usage, despite concerns about their risks to women's health.

The year 2006 brought highs and lows to those in the pro-life community working against abortion, stem-cell research involving the destruction of human embryos, the death penalty and other threats to human life.

When Bush vetoed the Stem-Cell Research Enhancement Act July 19, he said the expansion of stem-cell research that kills human embryos would present "a conflict between science and ethics that can only do harm to both and to our nation as a whole."

Among the Catholic leaders praising Bush's action was Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson of the Knights of Columbus, who said the stem-cell bill was "eminently worthy of President Bush's first veto."

In a message for Respect Life Sunday, Oct. 1, Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore said signs of progress in the pro-life effort included the "enthusiastic involvement in pro-life education and activism" by young people and the growing number of them "committed to living chastely until marriage, a trend that has contributed substantially to the continuing decline in abortions."

The cardinal, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, also cited growing public sentiment against "the policy of virtually unlimited abortion," and especially against partial-birth abortion, and "increased opposition, particularly among committed Catholics, to the use of the death penalty."

But he said negative developments included FDA approval of RU-486 and of over-the-counter sales of Plan B, as well as the "exaggerated or even fraudulent claims" made by proponents of embryonic stem-cell research.

More disappointments came in November, when Missouri voters, by a narrow margin, approved a constitutional amendment expanding embryonic stem-cell research in the state and South Dakota voters repealed a law banning most abortions there.

Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis said that the Missouri amendment "will come to be regarded as the bellwether of human cloning" and "will further erode respect for all human life."

The South Dakota law, repealed by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin, had drawn national attention as a possible challenge to the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.

Voters Nov. 7 also defeated measures in Oregon and California that would have required parental notification before a minor's abortion, and approved an advisory referendum in Wisconsin that could lead to the reinstatement of the death penalty in that state.

The day after the election, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the appeals of two lower court rulings that found the 2003 Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act to be unconstitutional because it does not include provisions allowing its use to protect a woman's health.

The court's decision in those cases will not come until 2007. But earlier in the year, the high court rejected for the third time the use of racketeering laws against abortion protesters. The case dated back to 1986 when the National Organization for Women attempted to use racketeering laws in class-action lawsuits against abortion clinic protesters.

Among other life-related developments in 2006:

-- Amnesty International considered dropping its longtime neutrality on abortion, prompting the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to urge the organization not to risk "its own well-deserved moral credibility" by taking such a step.

-- The U.S. bishops overwhelmingly approved a document that encourages married couples who use artificial contraception to return to church teaching and learn how natural family planning can benefit the marital relationship.

-- Catholic and Protestant organizations went to court in New York state to overturn a law requiring religious employers to provide contraceptive coverage in health plans offered to their employees.

-- Democrats in the House introduced two bills aimed at reducing the number of abortions in the United States, but neither bill was acted on during the 109th Congress.

-- The bishops of New Jersey expressed support for the state's temporary moratorium on executions and urged a commission created to examine the flaws in the death penalty system to make the moratorium permanent.


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