Fall 2003 Banquet

Supporters of the pro-life position can take heart—and practical lessons—from the advances of other American political movements, according to the keynote message at the 10th annual Life Legal Defense Foundation’s Annual Attorney Banquet.

Speaker Grover G. Norquist is a Republican political activist, conservative strategist, author, and the head of Americans for Tax Reform. He spoke to a crowd of just over 100 Life Legal supporters. His message was direct: When elected officials know that voting against pro-life issues will affect their political futures, they will support pro-life causes. That fact has worked for the anti-tax and pro-gun movements, and it can work for the pro-life movement, too, he indicated.

In addition to Mr. Norquist’s talk, the dinner program included Executive Director Dana Cody’s annual report, the Attorney of the Year presentation to Phil Carey of Sacramento, and the screening of a video related to LLDF’s work in the Terry Shiavo case in Florida. Mr. Norquist opened with a question:

“How do we make the politics of the pro-life movement work?” He took into account shortfalls, successes and failures. Mr. Norquist, who also is a board member of the National Rifle Association, detailed how people against gun control and new taxes have achieved political goals. He suggested that the pro-life movement take heed.

He compared recent political activity of the gun and pro-life movements. Polls show that 65 percent of Americans are generally pro-life, while 65 percent of Americans generally support some gun control laws, he said. But among those whose votes are guided by those issues, 4 percent of voters use their stance on gun control as the principle for choosing a candidate. Meanwhile, 12 percent of pro-life voters use their pro-life position to determine their votes, while 6 percent of pro-abortion voters use their beliefs as the most important guideline for their votes. The margin of error for those statistics is 4 to 6 percent plus or minus, he noted.

How did the statistically less robust gun movement achieve passage of conceal/carry weapons laws in 36 states, Mr. Norquist asked, while the pro-life movement counts just 19 states with “partial-birth” abortion laws? And why can gun supporters claim that new state laws have done “everything the Second Amendment movement wants,” while changes to abortion laws are “the bare minimum the pro-life people want”?

Meanwhile, the anti-tax movement, which he helps lead at the national level, has enjoyed success. Mr. Norquist linked former President George H. W. Bush’s lost bid for a second term in the White House to the breaking of his “no new taxes” pledge. Since then, “no Republican in Washington has voted for a tax increase,” he said. Why have pro-life people failed to match the political success of either the gun movement or the no-new-taxes crowd? “It is not enough to say that the press hates us or the public is not focused on our issues,” he said. “We are winning this fight, but not as fast as we need to— especially given the losses every day.” Mr. Norquist concluded that “we need to convince elected officials that voting against pro-life issues will affect their future careers.” Conceding that “we don’t have enough votes to do everything,” he left the audience with several suggestions for action.

In the short term, pro-life supporters must engage in “an annual fight that we have a shot at winning, such as partial-birth abortion, or Choose Life license plates.”He advised “wisdom and humility” in choosing issues at the state and national levels. “It is our job to make it easy for elected officials to vote pro-life, to pave the way for them to do the right thing. In every state, there needs to be a pro-life vote. Pro-life supporters need to ask elected officials, ‘Are you moving in our direction or in the other direction?’ Choose Life license plates are not everything we want, but it’s a small step in the right direction. If we get a vote, we have a record.” Based on his political experience, Mr. Norquist believes that “after each victory, a greater percentage (of lawmakers) will be willing to go with you.”

Looking ahead, he advised vigilant attention to the issue of judicial appointments and international politics, because “the other team has decided they can’t win in Congress and so they have shifted their efforts to the courts, and will more and more shift to the United Nations.” He also warned of the dangers in the Patriot Act, passed in reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks. It gives the government broad powers that could be used against the pro-life movement “if the other team gets to determine what a terrorist is.” He suggested support for a sunset provision to the act. (1)

In summary, pro-life supporters “need to wear bifocals,” he said. “A lot of time our team gets tripped up,” unbalanced between visionary goals and today’s urgent problem. Long-term and immediate issues both need attention. “Our goal is no abortions (but) this year, what can we accomplish? You can’t get them to go with you to the Promised Land if you can’t get through the next three months. We’re not talking about compromising the goal, but what do you do today, next month, next election cycle? It is going to take patience and determination on our part. Small victories today will build to big victories in the years to come.”

1. According to the Associated Press, on Tuesday, January 27, 2004, U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins ruled that certain provisions of the act are vague, thereby threatening First and Fifth Amendment rights. The judge reasoned that the vague language does not distinguish between impermissible advice on violence and encouraging the use of peaceful, nonviolent means to achieve goals.

“The USA Patriot Act places no limitation on the type of expert advice and assistance which is prohibited and instead bans the provision of all expert advice and assistance regardless of its nature,” the judge said.

While this may not apply directly to pro-life speech the precedent set by implementation of the act will certainly impact the free exercise activities of opponents of abortion that are sometimes classified as “domestic terrorists.”