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Jewish World Review Nov. 29, 1999 /20 Kislev, 5760

Don Feder

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Bush`s abortion comments suggest serious reflection -- LIKE SLAVERY IN THE 1850S, abortion is the most significant moral question confronting America today. In a recent interview, Gov. George W. Bush gave the impression that he may actually understand this.

After spending the campaign to date avoiding issues like an agile flyer with enemy fighters on his tail, the governor is finally beginning to tell us where he stands. Had he spoken earlier, Sen. John McCain might not be pulling even with him in New Hampshire.

A candidate's position on abortion tells us much more than how he views this issue alone. It also speaks to his understanding of the spill-over effect of legalized slaughter, and whether he has the guts to oppose the culture's consensus.

In the past, the governor has engaged in sophistry. (I'm pro-life; just don't ask me what I'd do about it.) This time, he was specific.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Bush told Tim Russert that, as president, he would sign a ban on partial-birth abortions and legislation establishing a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion is performed.

Touting his credentials, Bush informed Russert, "We have a parental notification bill in the state of Texas that I fought for" -- and fought hard, according to the National Right to Life Committee. He also vetoed a measure that would have allowed hospitals to withdraw life-support without the consent of a patient or his surrogate.

Bush said he favors a pro-life amendment to the Constitution that excepts rape, incest and threats to the mother's life.

(Given medical advances, the instances in which a mother actually is endangered by continuation of pregnancy are statistically insignificant.)

Most Americans favor such a modified ban. However, the governor tells us he believes that life begins at conception. Does that mean he's willing to allow the sacrifice of humans who, through no fault of their own, were conceived in odious circumstances?

In the past, Bush has said he would not have a pro-life litmus test for judicial appointments. Now, he admits he would want to know if he and the nominee are "compatible" on a broad range of issues.

Of paramount importance, Bush would inquire if the prospective nominee believes in strict interpretation of the Constitution (using the Founders' intent, instead of the ACLU's aspirations, as the standard).

Excellent. Since there's no right to abortion tucked away in the First Amendment, a nominee cannot both endorse the monumental distortion of Roe vs. Wade and claim to construe the Constitution as it was written. Assuming the governor is talking straight, that means if elected he won't inflict another Justice David Souter on us (his father's worse mistake).

Beyond these specifics, Bush outlined a broad philosophy. "I'm going to set a goal that says the unborn ought to be protected in law and welcomed in life." Life is precious -- "not only life of the unborn, it is life for the elderly, it is life for the young."

The governor then made a significant connection, moving directly from abortion to the observation that there's something appallingly wrong "with a society where life is so devalued" that students can re-enact the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre on their classmates.

This would suggest that Bush understands the interconnectedness of life issues. The society that sanctions the killing of the unborn will eventually condone the murder of the elderly and the chronically ill. The nation that allows the destruction of its children in the womb will rear a generation that believes all existence is dependent on someone's choice -- usually their own.

There's much a president can do here that goes beyond judicial appointments and legislation.

Ronald Reagan used presidential orders to get Washington out of the business of facilitating and promoting abortion (eliminating funding of fetal-tissue research, not allowing abortions at military-base hospitals, blocking importation of the abortifacient RU-486 and ending Title X money used to pay for abortion counseling). All were reversed by Clinton on his third day in office.

A president can appoint Cabinet officers who will resemble Surgeon General C. Everett Koop more than Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders. The latter once sneered that pro-lifers worshipped the fetus.

I remain a Bush skeptic. But when a candidate addresses hard questions in a fashion that denotes serious reflection, then -- in the words of Willie Loman's wife in "Death of a Salesman" -- attention must be paid.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate