‘We celebrate advances in science, medicine, and politics, granting awards to those who find new ways to promote the betterment of society, to end disease, to improve our way of life. It is only fitting that, in the company of these great celebrations, there is an award to honor advances in protecting that first right that gives all others meaning, the right to life.”
That’s how radio-talk-show host Laura Ingraham announced the inaugural Life Prizes on Friday night at a gala at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. The Life Prizes were founded by Ray Ruddy, president of the Gerard Health Foundation.
Richard Doerflinger was among the six award recipients. He is an under-the-radar pro-life hero. His day job is associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where he has worked for almost 29 years. He monitors, analyzes, and responds to federal and medical developments on life issues. He writes and he educates–colleagues, bishops, Congress, the media. And he recently talked to National Review Online editor Kathryn Jean Lopez about the state of life and his work in defense of it.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What are your feelings as we’ve entered the age of Obama?
Richard Doerflinger: I don’t think pro-life Americans should despair and give up. Our situation is similar to what it was in 1993: the White House and both chambers of Congress basically against us on the abortion issue. Our opponents thought they would soon reverse the Hyde amendment against federal abortion funding, begin funding destructive human embryo research, and pass the Freedom of Choice Act. None of these things happened, and President Clinton’s repeated vetoes of a ban on partial-birth abortion only kept the horrors of abortion before the public’s eyes and increased pro-life sentiment. If we persevere, we will again show that the pro-life message is here to stay.
Lopez: Did George W. Bush do right by life these past eight years?
Doerflinger: I know some are disappointed he did not do more. But he gave us a Supreme Court that upheld a ban on an abortion method for the first time in 35 years. He single-handedly retained many pro-life policies by his veto threat against bad bills. He advanced the cause of faith-based initiatives and conscience rights in health care. He changed the stem-cell-research debate by holding the line against destructive embryo research while promoting morally acceptable alternatives that are now showing tremendous progress. And he showed how we can reach out compassionately to the victims of AIDS in developing nations while retaining an emphasis on abstinence and fidelity and respecting the consciences of religious service providers. To me these are all very positive aspects of his legacy.
Lopez: How devastating could the Freedom of Choice Act be?
Doerflinger: We have said this is the most extreme piece of abortion legislation ever introduced in Congress. It would elevate abortion to the status of a “fundamental” right, and call on all public-health programs not to “discriminate” against abortion–in other words, any government effort to support childbirth would also be mandated to support abortion to the same extent. It would overturn hundreds of modest pro-life laws passed over the last 35 years–conscience clauses, public-funding restrictions, informed-consent and parental-involvement statutes, and so on.
Lopez: What is the state of stem-cell research right now?
Doerflinger: Our opponents like to say that politics has overly restricted science. The fact is adult and cord-blood stem cells have become the gold standard for actually benefiting patients, with embryonic stem cells lagging far behind. If embryonic stem cells do have any advantages for some purposes, even those advantages can be pursued as well or better using the new technique for “reprogramming” adult cells into “induced pluripotent stem cells”–an advance hailed by the journal Science as the top scientific breakthrough. However, just as the science is demonstrating that human embryo destruction is irrelevant to medical progress, that controversial avenue may receive a new infusion of money and attention for ideological reasons.
Lopez: Does it drive you crazy when people insist George W. Bush was against stem-cell research, period?
Doerflinger: Yes, because it’s false on so many levels. President Bush strongly favored research on stem cells obtained without harming or killing the donor. He was even in favor of pursuing basic research on embryonic stem cells, and provided tens of millions of dollars a year for research using existing embryonic-stem-cell lines. What he was against was the use of federal funds to encourage researchers to destroy new embryos for their stem cells. His policy enabled the morally sound alternatives to be pursued and funded, and these are now showing they can actually do many things better. Lopez: Do pro-lifers do enough for the children they seek to save after they are born?