from Talk to Action
As Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards got right with Jesus and the only "single-issue voters" that rate the Democratic Party's approval, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried talking the talk to enlist "pro-life" support for funding stem cell research.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has drawn guffaws from the pro-life community for comments saying that embryonic stem cell research, which involves the destruction of days-old human embryos, is a "gift from God." Her remarks came after the House approved a bill to force Americans to fund it.
"Science is a gift of God to all of us, and science has taken us to a place that is biblical in its power to cure... And that is embryonic stem cell research," Pelosi said.
As Pelosi speaks of God’s gift of science, a Democratic Congress votes to spend $27 million more on abstinence-only programs and crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) than Bush had even asked for — thereby ensuring an increase in the rate of sexually transmitted infections and abortions among young people — while dumping millions of our tax dollars into the coffers of the same Religious Right abstinence-only industry working to criminalize safe abortion care, abolish stem cell research, and defeat the Prevention First program that Democrats claim to consider a high legislative priority.
While these politicians might fudge their positions on "a woman's right to choose," this action undeniably stamps them as just what the Religious Right accuses them of being: pro-abortion — because despite all their meaningless cant about "reducing the number of abortions," increasing the number of abortions is the only thing that abstinence-only programs guarantee to accomplish.
Pelosi's Sunday School homily on stem cell research provoked immediate ridicule from the powerhouses of the Religious Right. Tony Perkins (right) of the Family Research Council summed up their reaction: "Pelosi must not have learned from Rudy Giuliani's experience during the GOP debate when the building was struck by lightening as he sought to justify abortion. Of course, it's complete nonsense to suggest that God wants us to destroy human embryos, since they are His own creation. This is just the latest example of the Left's aggressive efforts to lure the unsuspecting into supporting immoral and unethical policies which are whitewashed with spiritual words and phrases."
That tells us exactly how much "common ground" Democratic pandering to the sensibilities of political religionists is going to buy on stem cell research. And there's no reason to imagine that the outlook is any better for conservative Christian cooperation on any other issue.
Ralph Reed might be corrupt to the marrow of his bones, but maybe that's why he understands today's political reality as well as he does.
"You can't take the same tired, discredited liberal agenda of higher taxes, government-run health care, abortion on demand, cut and run in Iraq, retreat rather than a forward strategy in the war on terrorism, and by putting a religious veneer on it and quoting some Scripture, cause religious conservative voters to respond."
Janice Crouse (right), a Senior Fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank for Concerned Women for America, makes clear that there will be no cooperation, and no common ground on Prevention First.
America's conflicted attitude toward sex is at the heart of an intriguing political struggle unfolding this year in Congress and many states, as liberals and conservatives spar over bills aimed at reducing the huge number of unintended pregnancies.
To the liberal coalition backing the measures, the so-called Prevention First initiative is a commonsense package that would reduce the need for abortions by providing better information about contraceptives and expanding access to them.
To conservatives, the initiative is an alarming effort to eliminate abstinence-only sex education, strengthen abortion-rights groups and encourage sex outside of marriage.
"There's a utopian view that women ought to be able to have sex any time they want to without consequences — that's the bottom line of all these bills," said Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America ...
The positions of Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family and the rest of the Religious Right's "pro-life" lobby are also the bottom line on any legislation dealing even tangentially with S-E-X. That's a matter of public record, and no news to anyone.
So it isn't as if the Democrats who agreed to a sweetheart deal for souped-up abstinence funding didn't know what they were doing — not after a report commissioned by Congress itself spelled out the abject failure of that ideological nightmare in terms even they could understand.
With the Democrats in control, the appropriations cycle begins and the first big policy step the Democrats take on domestic reproductive health is to push through a 30 percent increase in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that prohibit information about condoms and birth control. Oh, and by the way, that increase (to $140 million) is larger than any put forward in the last three years of the Republican-led Congress.
"Huh?" you might ask.
Now, let me make the scenario even better -- or worse. What if you were told that just six weeks before the Appropriations Committee met, a major 10-year evaluation that Congress itself had mandated was released showing that abstinence-only programs had no impact on teen behavior? On top of that, what if you were told that the Society of Adolescent Medicine had released a report in 2006 stating that abstinence-only-programs "threaten fundamental human rights to health, information and life?"
And the pièce de résistance? Less than a week before the appropriations numbers are released, a major investigative story in The Nation connects the dots and documents an enormous network of ultra-conservative organizations feeding at the abstinence-only trough -- organizations with significant track records opposing Democratic party policies and candidates. And here we have the ultimate irony of Appropriations Chair David Obey becoming one of the largest funders of the famous vast right-wing conspiracy!
What's their excuse for the inexcusable? According to Congressional Quarterly, it's go-along-to-get-along business as usual — and according to James Wagoner, "new boss, same as the old boss."
Lawmakers say the olive branch extended to Republicans increases the likelihood that the bill will pass the House with a veto-proof majority. It also sends a strong signal that Appropriations Chairman David R. Obey, D-Wis., will avoid controversial social policy changes this year in the interest of moving bills.
In case you're wondering, "controversial social policy changes" means telling young people the truth about sexually transmitted infections, contraception and pregnancy. And to Christian conservatives like Tom McClusky, the Family Research Council's vice president for government affairs, "common ground" means "it's more likely they're looking for more funding for Planned Parenthood."
While all of us wonder whether our Democratic Congress is actively collaborating with the Religious Right or merely clueless, some of us will continue picking up the pieces of the massive social and public health disaster that is "abstinence-only education."
We will be providing safe and supportive care to teenagers for whom abstinence worked until it didn't — 13, 14, 15 and 16 year-old kids who don't know how to put on a condom or even what a cervix is, and whose very first pelvic exam is the prelude to an abortion. We will see most of them on Saturdays, because so many use up their allotment of excused absences due to the severe nausea and vomiting of early pregnancy that they can't afford yet another absence from their abstinence-only classes.
We will be providing free contraception education and birth control supplies to young people who have never heard anything about condoms except that they have holes in them big enough for sperm to swim through, and who don't know anything about birth control pills except "I heard they make you fat." And when our young patients don't know where they will go when the supply of birth control supplies we give them runs out, we make sure they don't walk out our door without a referral for a confidential and affordable provider of contraceptive services in their hands.
We will be arranging treatment for teenagers with HPV who already have dysplasia, or a vaginal vault virtually paved with condyloma that they've been afraid and ashamed to tell anyone about. Because then someone would know that they are having sex, after they've signed an abstinence pledge in front of the whole class.
If you think condyloma looks ugly on a screen, you should see it on a 15 year-old girl.
In the face of merciless federal policies, we will keep right on doing all these things as the providers of abortion care who are doing more to lessen the spread of sexually transmitted infections and lower the rate of teen pregnancy than the entire United States Congress — and are doing more to help put ourselves out of business than the entire Religious Right combined.
And the sad and sorry truth is that if our national policymakers cared half as much about our young people as they ought to do, we would never have to see most of those kids come through our doors in the first place.
James Wagoner ends his thoughtful essay with this: "There's more at stake here than $140 million dollars. This is one of those moments that will define the heart and soul of this Democratic Congress."
The place to entertain the ghost of Jerry Falwell is a seance room, not the halls of Congress. It's time for our leaders to stop mouthing platitudes about their own personal moral values, and past time for them to start fighting for the health, the futures and the lives of our children.
Images — Nancy Pelosi: Fox News
Tony Perkins: Family Research Council
Janice Crouse: Concerned Women for America
James Wagoner: Rh Reality Check