President Bush told thousands of antiabortion marchers yesterday that his administration is making progress toward fostering a "culture of life" by enacting measures that limit abortion and stem cell research while expanding the legal definition of life.
Speaking by telephone as the protesters gathered in the biting cold for their annual antiabortion march from the Ellipse to the Supreme Court, Bush said that although outlawing abortion remains a distant goal, it is one that seems to be moving slowly into view. "The America of our dreams, where every child is welcomed . . . in life and protected in law, may still be some ways away," Bush said. "But even from the far side of the river . . . we can see its glimmerings."
Although banning abortion is a top priority of the Christian conservatives who make up the core of his electoral base, Bush chose to make his remarks by telephone from the presidential retreat at Camp David rather than address the protesters in person, and he spoke only indirectly about the goal of outlawing abortion. Similarly, in his inaugural address last week, the president did not use the word "abortion," though he made what many abortion foes regarded as a reference to the issue by saying "even the unwanted have worth."
"I'm not sure he wants to have that battle. . . . It's too contentious," said Shawn J. Parry-Giles, a University of Maryland professor who studies presidential rhetoric. "Abortion may not be part of his rhetorical presidency, but it is an issue that he may well go at through his judicial nominees."
Bush's comments to protesters came just before the 32nd annual march marking Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision guaranteeing women the right to abortion. A thin majority on the high court has managed to keep the ruling in place, although it has been attacked by abortion foes who call the Roe decision legally specious and morally wrong.
With Bush beginning a second term and with eight of the nine justices age 65 or older, many abortion opponents are hopeful that he will appoint enough new justices to tip the balance when it comes to abortion. Abortion rights advocates, meanwhile, promise to work with their allies in the Senate to block any justices likely to vote to overturn Roe.
Many abortion rights groups, meanwhile, believe Bush has signaled his intention to appoint antiabortion justices by saying that his model for future justices are Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, both of whom have said in legal opinions that Roe should be overturned.
In remarks to the protesters, Bush said his administration had already moved toward legislating a "culture of life" by enacting laws banning certain abortion procedures and allowing prosecutors to charge criminals who harm or kill pregnant women with harming their unborn children. Bush also touted his stem cell policy, which restricts scientists who receive federal funding to doing research on stem cells harvested from a limited number of human embryos. The policy prohibits federal subsidies of research that involves the creation or destruction of additional embryos. Many antiabortion groups and others have applauded that decision, as they equate human embryos with human life. But some scientists and patient advocates have complained that the Bush policy handicaps their work in a potentially lifesaving area of research.
"We're also moving ahead in terms of medicine and research to make sure the gifts of science are consistent with our highest values of freedom, equality, family and human dignity," Bush said. "We will not sanction the creation of life only to destroy it."
Bush also told the protesters that they will eventually prevail, if only because of what he described as the justness of their cause. "I encourage you to take warmth and comfort from our history, which tells us that a movement that appeals to the noblest and most generous instincts of our fellow Americans -- and that is based on a sacred promise enshrined in our founding document that this movement will not fail," Bush said.