The 108th Congress is done, and the 2004 presidential election is history. It’s time to review what President George W. Bush and Congress accomplished with regard to the Catholic Church’s most significant issues.
While much remains to be done, this Congress and this president have made substantial progress on core social matters. Of the five non-negotiable issues for Catholics—abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning, and the protection of marriage—abortion comes first, and the 108th Congress made headway in promoting a culture of life by restricting abortions.
Congress worked with President Bush to enact the historic partial-birth abortion ban, which the courts are still challenging. While the latest court decisions have been disappointing, the New York district court decision will provide the Supreme Court with useful, factual findings on which to base its ruling. In addition, we passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (known as “Laci and Conner’s Law”), which recognizes the child in the womb as a separate victim of crime when the mother is attacked.
President Bush engaged in the debate over human embryonic cloning and stem-cell research, and by fund- ing only those existing stem-cell lines from previously destroyed embryos, he stalled the push for full federal stem- cell research funding. While I disagree with funding existing lines, the president’s action prevented a greater evil. Importantly, the president and embryonic stem-cell research opponents in Congress continue to promote ethically sound and more promising adult stem-cell research.
On the issue of marriage, Congress, backed by the president, took a firm stand by holding first votes on a constitutional amendment that would defend marriage from redefinition by the courts. While we fell short this time, we laid down the marker in what will be a long-term battle. These first votes signaled that the American people, not unelected judges, should decide the future of marriage. We will continue the fight for a marriage protection amendment in the next Congress as the only way for the people to take back the institution from activist judges.
For the 109th Congress, arguably the most important task is to confirm judicial nominations. In the 108th, Democrats used unprecedented partisan filibusters to block ten of the president’s well-qualified circuit court nominees, denying them a fair, up-or-down confirmation vote on the Senate floor. All the filibustered nominees have the support of a bipartisan majority and would be confirmed if given an up-or-down vote.
The Democrats’ obstruction of circuit court nominations is a prelude to a much larger judicial confirmation battle for as many as three U.S. Supreme Court vacancies that likely will occur in the next Congress. No life issue is more important than the appointment of U.S. Supreme Court judges. And President Bush has stated unequivocally that he will appoint justices who give a strict interpretation of the Constitution, as opposed to judges who view the Constitution as a living, growing document that should reflect cultural changes.
The Supreme Court fight could decide the outcome of key social issues for the next two generations. Religious freedom is also threatened in the confirmation process. The Democrats are imposing a de facto litmus test on certain nominees by questioning their religious beliefs to deny them a vote, making it increasingly difficult to confirm religious nominees, especially Catholics.
The Catholic Church must engage as Congress continues the fight over these and other key social issues in the culture wars.