Politics & Policy

Denial Is a Senator from California

Life in the Senate.

If one were to hold a “most dogged foe of unborn human life in the U.S. Senate” contest, the competition would be stiff, and the decision difficult. At one time, I thought the winner was Senator Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.). By 2004, I thought Kennedy might be surpassed by Massachusetts’s other Democratic senator, John Kerry. Then, after spending a couple of years researching Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.), I was convinced no one could be worse.

Alas, along came Sen. Barack Obama (D., lll.), who has not been in Congress long enough, I suppose, to stand out from the bottom of the pit — though his shocking record in the Illinois legislature, most notably in voting against legislation to provide emergency medical care to newborn babies that managed to survive failed abortions, probably earns the prize for the most horrid anti-life action I’ve ever come across by an American politician.

#ad#That said, it may be impossible to beat Senator Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) for all-around crassness and truly breathtaking statements in this area. As a case in point, consider three examples, from 1999, 2003, and last week.

The first took place in a Senate-floor debate over a bill to ban partial-birth abortion. Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Penn.), at the time the leading defender of the unborn in the Senate, paused to ask Senator Boxer a “what if.” What if, asked Santorum almost facetiously, in the course of the partial-birth abortion, the baby’s foot was inside the mother but the rest of the baby was outside. “Could that baby be killed?”

Santorum was trying to illustrate the absurdity of the point. He was taken aback, however, as Boxer struggled for an answer. Santorum pressed on, reiterating the question with different body parts, prompting Boxer — caught in the ridiculousness of her position — to snap, “I am not answering these questions.” Boxer informed Santorum that he (not she) was “losing his temper.”

Santorum did, however, get an answer from Boxer on this one: “Do you agree, once the child is born, separated from the mother, that that child is protected by the Constitution and cannot be killed?” Boxer replied: “I think when you bring your baby home, when your baby is born . . . the baby belongs to your family and has rights.” The gentle-lady from California had developed her own definition of a baby.

This surreal scenario was repeated during another debate over partial-birth abortion in October 2003, this time with Sen. Sam Brownback (R., Kan.). Brownback presented the now-famous photograph of tiny, pre-born Samuel Alexander Armas squeezing his doctor’s finger from his mother’s womb during a delicate emergency surgery. Brownback posed to Boxer the same kind of ludicrously simple and (one would think) unnecessary questions Santorum had tried. He asked the senator if the picture represented a piece of property or “the hand of a child.” Boxer fired back: “I am not a doctor, and I am not God.”


One can get on one’s knees and thank the Almighty that Senator Boxer is not the moral arbiter of the universe. Nonetheless, she appears to be giving it a shot: As these exchanges make evident, Boxer has taken upon herself some rather enormous tasks. In the past, matters like “when life begins” were left to an absolute authority — to, say, the God of Scripture. In the Brave New World of postmodern, pro-choice feminism, the likes of Senator Boxer make these calls from the infallible forum of the U.S. Senate floor.

That same presumption was again on display just last week. The occasion was the historic visit to America by Pope Benedict XVI. In response, Senator Brownback, a devout Catholic who has replaced the departed Santorum as the Senate’s most stalwart defender of the unborn, sponsored a resolution welcoming the pontiff.

#ad#It turns out, though, that Brownback was guilty of an egregious affront in his draft resolution: He had dared to thank the pope for valuing “each and every human life.” This was an apt acknowledgment for the man in Rome, given his remarkable consistency on life issues across the board, from abortion to AIDS to embryos to war. Nonetheless, Brownback’s statement of the obvious raised the ire of pro-choice Democrats in the Senate, particularly Barbara Boxer, who feared “human life” might extend to the unborn — a group that, by her definition, not only has no human rights but is not even human life.

This, of course, could not stand. Boxer immediately demanded that the “objectionable language” (the words of one senior Democratic Senate aide) be dropped from the resolution. Reporter Martin Kady of Politico.com was on the story. Kady found the office of the Democratic leadership unwilling to comment — quite possibly, even the leadership was embarrassed by Boxer’s move — though the office did refer the Politico to Boxer’s office, which, naturally, did not respond to the Politico’s inquiries.

Later, the Politico was able to get a comment from Boxer’s spokeswoman, Natalie Ravitz, who acknowledged, “we are very pleased we were able to reach an agreement with Senator Brownback to remove the political language and pass this resolution welcoming Pope Benedict.”

This was yet another joust with Boxer that Brownback probably found incomprehensible. Knowing what he was up against, he reportedly e-mailed his staffers from his Blackberry during the pope’s mass at Nationals Park, telling them to agree to drop the references to human life. He was in a no-win situation; Boxer had apparently dug in. If Brownback did not remove the recognition of the value of human life, there would be no welcome statement. Time was wasting — this was already day two of the visit.


In the end, Boxer had a resolution that praised the pope’s support of “the vibrance of religious faith in the United States,” “dialogue and unity,” “love and hope,” “hope over despair and love over hate,” “human dignity,” “religious freedom,” and so on, but not “human life.”

Like the earlier situations on the Senate floor during the partial-birth-abortion debates, various conflicting forces had clashed. First was the truth: A final-trimester fetus out (or partly out) of its mother’s womb was no doubt a baby, just as there is no question that Pope Benedict XVI values human life. Yet, the problem was that neither of those realities conformed to the world in the way that Senator Boxer desires it. She does not want such a baby dubbed a baby, and she does not want to be able to put in writing the undeniable reality that Pope Benedict values human life. That being the case, she fought both. Her worldview sought to trump all else from the Senate floor. There is a refusal to accept what is real, a literal denial of reality.

#ad#Secularists constantly moan about us conservative Christians allegedly shoving our values down the throats of everyone else. Well, Boxer no doubt forced her views upon others, including those currently unable to verbalize or articulate that they are, yes, human beings. This impulse to repress the value of “each and every human life” slights an entire category of people, which would not bother Barbara Boxer, since she does not consider these people to be people.

On second thought, then, maybe Senator Boxer’s move was appropriate; after all, we wouldn’t want the pontiff to think that every member of our U.S. Senate supports “each and every human life.” Clearly, not all of them do. Alas, at least Senator Boxer is honest.

Pope Benedict’s predecessor, the late Pope John Paul II, urged that we in America must promote a Culture of Life. Like Benedict, Pope John Paul II’s reference to “life” meant unborn life first and foremost, understanding how under assault that life happens to be in America today. No one in the U.S. Senate may be working harder against that objective — and more ineloquently — than Barbara Boxer.

– Paul Kengor is the author of God and Hillary Clinton (HarperCollins, 2007), and, most recently, The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). He is professor of political science at Grove City College.

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