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The Worst Week For Conservatives

Conservatives are licking their wounds from fights over abortion funding, health care reform, a gay-rights nominee, embryonic stem cell research, and Uganda's anti-gay law.

Senate Rejects Pro-Life Amendment

Christian advocacy groups lost a major abortion policy battle Tuesday. The Senate voted to table the amendment to the health care bill that would have barred any direct or indirect funding of abortion. The amendment was sponsored by Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both from Maine, voted with all of the Democrats against the Nelson-Hatch amendment. The amendment was supported by the other Senate Republicans as well as Nelson, Evan Bayh (Ind.), Robert Casey (Pa.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.), Ted Kaufman (Del.), and Mark Pryor (Ark.).

The amendment was widely supported by Christian advocacy groups.

Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), and Galen Carey, NAE Director of Government Affairs, wrote an open letter to all U.S. Senators warning, "if the Nelson-Hatch amendment is not included in the bill, the [NAE] will vigorously oppose passage of the final bill."

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the plan to allow federal funding of abortion in both the public plan and through subsidies "unconscionable." Like other groups, the ERLC saw the Nelson-Hatch amendment as merely keeping the status quo on abortion funding.

"The vote reflects a callous disregard for the protection of innocent human life," said the American Center of Law and Justice (ACLJ). "Rejecting this Amendment is disappointing, but not surprising."

Some groups took aim directly at Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has previously opposed any federal funding of abortion and was considered to be a pro-life Democrat.

The Family Research Council (FRC) accused Reid of changing his position on abortion out of political expediency. "Since becoming majority leader, Sen. Reid hasn't cast a single pro-life vote," said the FRC. "His loyalty is to political power—not to the unborn, and certainly not to Nevada voters."

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser similarly questioned Reid's identity. "Is Reid a pro-life Senator, true to his Nevada roots, who will work to protect innocent human life at every turn? Or is he a hardened Washington politico, an inside the Beltway horse-trader willing to make personal compromises for short-term political gain?" asked Dannenfelser.

"Socialistic Grab"

Even if the Nelson-Hatch amendment had passed, the health-care proposal would have been unacceptable for many groups that do not trust the government to run health care programs. The Liberty Counsel, for example, said that the Congress should not approve policies that "disregard life and restrict our freedom with bureaucracy and endless paperwork."

Pat Robertson summed up the concern succinctly on Monday's 700 Club: "It's a socialistic grab at a major part of your life."

Wendy Wright, President of Concerned Women for America, warned that the government may even attempt to force women to have abortions in an effort to cut costs.

"Since abortion costs less than delivery of a baby, it is not unlikely that bureaucrats, facing pressure to reduce costs, will sign off on paying for abortion but not for the health care that pregnant women and their babies need. This could lead to women being coerced into abortion by their own government," said Wright.

The FRC examined the latest Senate bill and was concerned that insurance programs would be overseen by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Why is this a problem? According to the FRC, the problem is the OPM's director, John Berry, whom the FRC described as "the highest ranking homosexual in President Obama's administration."

"American health care—which accounts for 15 percent of the GDP—could be under the direction of Berry, a man with a very specific agenda to redefine the family," the group said.

NIH Releases Stem-Cell Lines

The director of the NIH, Francis Collins, announced that the NIH has approved 13 new lines of embryonic stem cells for use in federally funded experiments, reversing previous NIH policy. Collins is open about his Christian faith and was opposed by some who balked at an Evangelical heading the NIH.

Chuck Colson, who described Collins as "a Christian and a friend of mine," supported Collins's nomination but opposed this decision.

"Embryonic stem cell research requires the destruction of what Collins acknowledges possesses 'inherent sanctity.' You can't honor this sanctity and, at the very same time, kill the embryo," said Colson.

Al Mohler said Collins' reasoning for releasing the stem cell lines was unclear, but "then again, actions often do speak louder than words. The action of the National Institutes of Health announced yesterday by Dr. Collins is tragically clear."

The Liberty Council saw the NIH decision as "evidence of the lack of respect for life in our government," and asked people to "pray that more Americans wake up and get involved so that our great nation will once again respect life."

Feldblum Proceeds

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee approved President Obama's nominee to head the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. As we reported previously, Feldblum has been opposed by many conservative advocacy groups, who invariably note that she is both a gay-rights activist and a lesbian.

"Feldblum, a lesbian, comes with an impressive resume of radicalism," said Perkins of the FRC. "If confirmed, Feldblum would help President Obama achieve his goal of assembling a team of liberal extremists in every pocket of his administration."

A coalition of groups sent an open letter to the Senate Committee voting on Feldblum's nomination. The letter was written by the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) and signed by representatives of Focus on the Family, Liberty Counsel, American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, and other groups. It accused Feldblum of favoring sexual liberty over religious liberty and of not denying support for "polyamory," which is like polygamy without the marriage license.

The letter said that as a Commissioner at the EEOC, Feldblum would force religious groups that enter into the marketplace to "adhere to a norm of nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity."

Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Law

Uganda is considering a new law that would enforce lifetime prison sentences and in some cases the death penalty for homosexual behavior, as well as punish citizens for not reporting such behavior to the authorities.

Rick Warren said in a recent Meet the Press interview that he would not take sides on the law. Yesterday, however, Warren released a video message to pastors in Uganda urging opposition to the law, calling it "unjust, extreme and un-Christian toward homosexuals."

The bill is also publicly opposed by Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, and Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners. Both Sider and Wallis signed an open letter opposing the law.

"Our Christian faith recognizes violence, harassment and unjust treatment of any human being as a betrayal of Jesus' commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. As followers of the teachings of Christ, we must express profound dismay at a bill currently before the Parliament in Uganda," said the signatories.

The letter avoids any statement on the morality of homosexuality. Instead, it states that regardless of their view of sexuality, the signatories "seek to embrace our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as God's children worthy of respect and love."

The focus of the letter also turns toward gay rights in America. "We are painfully aware that in our country gays and lesbians still face hostility and violence," says the letter. "We recognize that such treatment degrades the human family, threatens the common good and defies the teachings of our Lord—wherever it occurs."

Tobin Grant is an associate professor of political science at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and director of the Tracking American Evangelical Politics project.

Related Elsewhere:

Earlier Political Advocacy Trackers are available on our site, including:

Who Backs Obama's Afghanistan Strategy | Like the rest of us, advocacy groups came back from the Thanksgiving holiday to find a long to-do list waiting for them, filled with issues at home and abroad. (December 4, 2009)
What Does the Manhattan Declaration Really Mean? | Also: advocacy groups gear up for the Christmas shopping season with politics and compassion. (November 24, 2009)
Will Abortion Derail Health Care Reform? | The Senate moves closer to a vote on health care reform, groups argue over presidential appointments, and the Family Research Council issues a correction. (November 20, 2009)

Christianity Today also follows political developments on the politics blog.

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