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CURRENT ISSUE:  November 20, 2006 • VOL. 44, NO. 20 • Oakland, CA

Election puts more pro-life Democrats in new Congress

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The 110th Congress that goes to work in January will include more pro-life Democrats whose party’s majority in both the House and Senate also is likely to bring efforts to raise the minimum wage, roll back tax cuts for the richest Americans and take a broader approach to immigration reform.

Six new members of the House and one new senator who oppose legal abortion were elected Nov. 7 as part of a Democratic surge that put the party in control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 12 years.

Pennsylvania voters chose Democratic state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. to replace Republican Sen. Rick Santorum. Both are Catholics who oppose legal abortion.

Democrats for Life of America counted six new House members as pro-life: Heath Shuler of North Carolina, a Baptist; Joe Donnelly and Brad Ellsworth, both of Indiana; Charlie Wilson of Ohio; and Chris Carney and Jason Altmire, both of Pennsylvania. The last five are listed by various sources as Catholics.

Congressional Quarterly tallied 25 Catholics in the upcoming Senate, and 126 in the House. There are currently 24 Catholic senators and 131 Catholic House members. Two Buddhists and a Muslim elected to the House will be the first members of those faiths in Congress.

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, said although some of the Republicans who were ousted in the election also were consistent pro-life voters in Congress, the net effect is “near a wash” in terms of total pro-life members.

Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said by his count there will be 10-15 fewer pro-life votes in the House and perhaps four fewer in the Senate, depending upon the issue. He said that might still constitute a majority supporting limits on abortion in some cases, but by a narrower margin.

“The biggest challenge is the change in leadership,” Johnson said.
The probable new chairmen of both judiciary committees and of committees concerned with appropriations and health policy oppose most of the pro-life agenda, he said.



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Day said it was too soon to say whether the Democratic Party’s support for successful pro-life candidates in this election means the end of the presumption that Democratic candidates must support legal abortion to have the party’s backing.

“We would hope it’s off the table,” she said. Already Democrats opposed to abortion are finding the party’s leaders more inclined to work with them on legislation such as the Pregnant Women Support Act, she added. The bill, which has the support of the U.S. Catholic bishops, is aimed at reducing the number of abortions.

House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, who is expected to be speaker of the House in the 110th Congress, said Nov. 12 that she would back Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a Catholic and an opponent of legal abortion, for House majority leader. Pelosi, also a Catholic, supports keeping abortion legal.

Day also said she has heard from around the country that the Democratic Party’s support for some pro-life candidates made some voters opposed to abortion feel more free to vote for Democrats in general.

Expanded federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, which is opposed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and many pro-life organizations, is one item on Pelosi’s short-term agenda.
Several polls show that candidates’ positions on abortion were not a significant factor in the election, however. The war in Iraq is cited most frequently as the predominant issue for voters this year.

Catholic University of America politics professor John White said at a Nov. 9 program analyzing the outcome that “this election is a big deal. It’s not going to be easily undone.”

White said it was significant that states that have been counted as reliably Republican such as Virginia ended up supporting more Democrats. That trend will be hard to reverse, he suggested.
At the same program, professor Matthew Green said much of Pelosi’s “Six for ‘06” Democratic agenda echoes many of the concerns expressed by voters who were dissatisfied with the current state of the U.S. government.

Pelosi’s agenda includes raising the minimum wage; passing tax deductions and reducing student loan interest rates to make college more affordable; seeking energy independence; rolling back tax cuts for companies that move jobs overseas; pursuing lower drug prices for Medicare users; and implementing the recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission.

Several organizations that lobby on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform see an improved climate in the new Congress for their agenda.

“Never before in our lifetimes has immigration emerged as a major factor in an election,” said a written election analysis by Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.

Sharry said candidates who backed broad approaches to immigration problems fared much better than those who espoused “enforcement-only or enforcement-first” positions.

After the spring saw millions of people rallying across the country for comprehensive immigration reform, and despite approval by one house or the other of several other bills, the only significant piece of immigration-related legislation to be signed into law in the 109th Congress approved 700 miles of new fencing on the Mexican border.

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