When nurse Brenda Pratt Shafer assisted in three partial-birth abortions at the Women's Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio on September 30, 1993, she considered herself strongly prochoice.

During one procedure, the doctor grabbed the legs of a 26-week-old baby boy with Down syndrome. Then the physician used a pair of scissors to poke a hole in the baby's skull, while he was still in the womb. The doctor inserted a tube into the child's head and sucked out his brain.

"She screamed for God to forgive her," Pratt Shafer said of the 22-year-old female patient. "I could not believe it."

Pratt Shafer and other prolife activists are hoping that the 108th Congress, which begins its work in January, will ban partial-birth abortion. The President has agreed to sign such a law, one of several key legislative goals Republicans believe they can reach after regaining control of the Senate and strengthening their grip on the House in the November elections.

'Obstacles remain'

But conservative Christian leaders concede that legislative progress on their social agenda is likely to be slow. "Instead of a Bastille mentality, it's more of an incremental approach," said Rich Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals. "We're not going to be passing a school prayer amendment."

Former Moral Majority insider Cal Thomas said this is no time for Christians to withdraw from politics, as long as they do not see political power as their ultimate goal. "I think when you have political power, you should advance your agenda," Thomas told Christianity Today. "Certainly the Left does."

(In their 1999 book Blinded by Might, Thomas and Ed Dobson criticized the Christian Right's emphasis on politics as the best means to bring about social change.)

Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, said Republicans will push several key issues dear to Christian conservatives. "Conservatives should, however, manage their expectations," he said. "Obstacles remain."

For example, Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, has proposed legislation that would outlaw some but not all partial-birth abortions. The ban would only stop abortion of babies who are able to live outside the womb (after 19 weeks) and are removed from the womb feet first. The Santorum bill grants exceptions for women who might suffer injury, illness, or other disorders.

Santorum crafted the legislation with the Stenberg v. Carhart decision in mind. The 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down dozens of state bans on partial-birth abortion for not providing an exception for a woman's health, as spelled out in Roe v. Wade.

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Political opponents are already attacking Republicans on abortion and other social issues. The Democratic National Committee's website charges that a Republican-controlled Congress will "endanger women's lives and attack their right to choose."

Robert Edgar, general secretary of the mainline National Council of Churches, told ct that being prolife is not the only legitimate option for Christians. "We have churches who are prochoice and ones who're antichoice."

Jim Wallis, head of the moderate Call to Renewal, said he supports the ban on partial-birth abortion. But he urged Christians not to forget other important issues, such as concern for the poor.

"Every week our concerns would get pushed off by the debate over Iraq," Wallis told ct. "It just shows that the needs of low-income people are easily shoved aside."

Conservative judges

Some Christian conservatives consider judgeships the highest priority. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said, "Judges are the ones who decide on partial-birth abortion bans, on school prayer cases, on ministerial salaries."

Gary Bauer, chairman of the political action committee Campaign for Working Families, agreed: "It will be important for those of us who care about these issues to keep the pressure on the White House to nominate the right judges."

On November 14, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved two nominees whose confirmations had been delayed by Democrats: Judge Dennis Shedd and University of Utah law school professor Michael McConnell. The full Senate approved both Shedd and McConnell in late November.

Cloning ban

Another key objective for social conservatives is a ban on all forms of human cloning. The Republican-controlled House passed a complete ban in July 2001. The going has been tougher in the Senate, where Democrats have held sway.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, introduced legislation in 2001 to ban cloning for reproduction as well as for medical research—so-called therapeutic cloning. The bill stalled last year after Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, opted to support legislation by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California. Her bill allows therapeutic cloning. A Brownback aide said the senator plans to reintroduce the legislation early in 2003.

Related Elsewhere

Previous coverage of the 2002 midterm elections includes:

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White House Reportedly Asks Conservatives Not to Aggravate Democrats | Will White House stall prolife measures? (November 12, 2002)
Religion, Abortion Keys to Republican Wins and Agenda, Say Pundits | Election 2002: What happened? What's next? (November 8, 2002)
Election Day Jitters | Low voter turnout may hinder profamily agenda. (Sept. 20, 2002)
Midterm Exams | GOP, Democrats count on religious vote for congressional campaigns. (Jan. 29, 2002)

Additional coverage and commentary of the election results includes:

GOP Looks To Move Its Social AgendaThe Washington Post (Nov. 25, 2002)
The GOP, supported by Christian conservative voters, can hit hard—Marvin Olasky, World (Nov. 16, 2002)
Lott's Promise to Bring Up Abortion Worries Bush AidesThe Washington Post (Nov. 12, 2002)
Shift in Senate control lifts hopes of pro-lifersThe Washington Times (Nov. 12, 2002)
Religious vote credited in GOP winsThe Washington Times (Nov. 7, 2002)
Ga. Effort Shows GOP StrengthsThe Washington Post (Nov. 7, 2002)
The Democrats Get Trashed—Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post (Nov. 7, 2002)
Without a vision, you lose elections—Jim Wallis, Sojourners (Nov. 7, 2002)
Quackenbush Switches Political Parties—KAMR (Nov. 6, 2002)
Democrats have only themselves to blame—Joe Conason, Salon.com (Nov. 6, 2002)
PBA Ban, Bank on It, Lott Says—AgapePress (Nov. 6, 2002)

For additional coverage of U.S. politics see Christianity Today'sPolitics and Law archive and Yahoo full coverage.

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