He’s Not His Father’s Pro-life Democrat

by David Freddoso

Casey votes to fund abortion groups.

Is Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) pro-life? Did he win the votes of pro-life Pennsylvanians last year under false pretenses?

The question arises now after two extremely puzzling votes that Casey took last Thursday on the foreign operations appropriations bill. At 6:53 P.M., he voted for an amendment by Sen. Sam Brownback (R., Kan.), to preserve the federal government’s so-called Mexico City policy, which prohibits the granting of federal funds to overseas groups that refer and perform abortions.

Twenty minutes earlier, however, Casey had voted for an amendment by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) that not only overturned the Mexico City policy, but also increased funding for overseas groups that perform and refer abortions. Certainly, Casey had not had a change of heart in the space of 20 minutes.

The contradictory votes received little attention, but certainly neither made sense in the context of the other. This Monday, however, Casey resolved the tension. He went to the floor of the Senate and announced that on the Brownback amendment, “it was my intention to vote ‘nay.’ Therefore, I ask unanimous consent that I be permitted to change my vote since it will not affect the outcome of that vote.”

Casey’s vote in favor of funding abortion providers has been duly updated on the Senate website. Casey’s view is indisputably different — opposite in fact — from that of his father. Two-term Gov. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania had been revered in the pro-life movement. He was denied a chance to speak at the 1992 Democratic National Convention because he wanted to give a pro-life speech.

Not so with the younger Casey. His spokesman, Larry Smar, denied that Sen. Casey has changed the pro-life position on which he ran last year and defeated Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.). “He does not support public funding of abortion,” Smar wrote in response to National Review Online’s inquiries. “The amendment he voted for would not allow public funding of abortion, which is illegal” under another provision.

But this answer is disingenuous. The Boxer amendment does not put money directly into grants for providing abortions, but it funds groups that perform and refer them. Since money is fungible — that is, it can be used for anything — there is really no difference. That is why this amendment was so controversial, and why other pro-life senators — including Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) — voted against it, and have voted against it in all of its many incarnations over the years.

The debate on the Senate floor left little room for confusion about what the amendment actually does. “Many who support abortion question whether it should be used for family planning purposes, which these funds are designated to be used for,” Brownback argued. “We should not force American taxpayers to subsidize organizations that perform or actively promote abortion.”

Smar also included in his answer a line of rhetoric adopted in recent years by pro-abortion politicians seeking to tamp down the issue in order to make it less damaging. “Senator Casey supports measures that will reduce the number of abortions,” he wrote. “Providing support for family planning will reduce the number of abortions.”

This line originated with Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.), who proudly maintains a 100 percent pro-abortion voting record from the National Abortion Rights Action League. Although she has publicly called for “common ground” on the abortion issue, she has treated it as though it were merely a problem of a lack of federal funding for (widely available) contraceptives for teenagers. This position, unless adopted for wholly political reasons, would require the impossible belief that the 50 million abortions performed since Roe v. Wade have nothing to do with the procedure’s easy, court-mandated availability with no restrictions and under any circumstances whatsover.

Smars also asserted that Casey “wasn’t the only pro-life senator to vote in favor” of Boxer’s amendment — in fact that there were “a number of them.” He declined to specify who they were when asked, but it depends mostly on the definition of “pro-life.” He may have been referring to Sen. Harry Reid (D., Nev.), who votes on the pro-life side precisely when it makes no difference, and has a rating of 65 percent from the National Abortion Rights Action League. Or perhaps Sen. Mark Pryor (D., Ark.) who has a 45 percent pro-abortion voting record.

There was also Sen. Gordon Smith (R., Ore.), who only scores 15 percent with NARAL. Casey’s spokesman could have been referring to any of these Senators. But the deeper question is whether any senator can still be considered “pro-life” if he votes not only to make abortion easily available, but also to send taxpayers’ money to abortion organizations overseas.

“We knew all along Casey would sell out to Schumer and the Senate leadership,” said one Republican operative who worked with Santorum’s doomed campaign last year. “But maybe now they’ll let him speak at the convention.”

— David Freddoso is a National Review Online staff reporter.