Abortion Politics Heat Up

President Bush has pleased anti-abortion activists by declaring a National Sanctity of Human Life Day and pledging his administration's commitment to "build a culture that respects life."

"As we seek to improve quality of life, overcome illness and promote vital medical research, my administration will continue to honor our country's founding ideals of equal dignity and equal rights for every American," Mr. Bush said in a document that enacts no change in policy or program. "By working together to protect the weak, the imperfect and the unwanted, we affirm a culture of hope and help ensure a brighter future for all."

Meanwhile, in a sign that abortion could be a central issue in the 2004 presidential race, the six declared Democratic candidates have reportedly agreed to appear together at an event next week commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision removing abortion restrictions.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that the Democratic contenders will attend a dinner in Washington for the abortion-rights group Naral Pro-Choice America to mark the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

The Democrats attending will be Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Sen. Joe. Lieberman of Connecticut, the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York, and former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont.

It will be the first time the candidates will appear together on the same stage.

As he has done throughout his presidency, Mr. Bush appeared to be seeking to burnish his anti-abortion credentials while trying not to alienate moderate voters.

He heralded Born-Alive Infants Protection Act he signed last year, which amends the legal definitions of "person," "human being," "child" and "individual" to include any fetus that survives an abortion procedure.

Mr. Bush also underscored his administration's efforts to champion "compassionate alternatives" to abortion, such as promoting maternity group homes, encouraging abstinence and adoption and passing parental-notification and waiting-period laws.

He called unborn children "those without the voice and power to defend their own rights."

But the president also stopped short of condemning abortion — or the cause of abortion rights activists — outright, using only the veiled language of the anti-abortion movement.

"Every child is a priority and a blessing and I believe that all should be welcomed in life and protected by law," he said. "Through ethical policies and the compassion of Americans, we will continue to build a culture that respects life."

Mr. Bush also took care to speak of the need to honor life at all stages.

He proclaimed this Sunday National Sanctity of Human Life Day, urging Americans to mark the occasion at home or in places of worship, to help others in need and to "reaffirm our commitment to respecting the life and dignity of every human being."

The six-paragraph document was enthusiastically received by anti-abortion activists, who said it precisely summarized the philosophy behind their movement.

"This is exactly where we're at," said Darla St. Martin, associate executive director of National Right to Life. "It helps people to understand our cause. It helps people to understand why we are working so hard to defend unborn children."

Abortion-rights activists likewise heralded the Democrats' decision to appear at the Roe v. Wade event.

"The fact that this is the first major gathering of the announced presidential hopefuls on the Democratic side demonstrates the importance and power of this issue," said Naral president Kate Michelman.