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Bill Frist's election as Senate Majority Leader would represent a stunning setback for pro-life conservatives

By David T. Pyne
web posted December 23, 2002

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss) announced on Friday, December 20 that he was stepping down from his post as Senate Majority Leader under heavy pressure from the White House after determining that he did not have the votes to withstand a challenge from White House-backed centrist Sen. Bill Frist who declared his intention to challenge Trent Lott for his leadership position the previous day. Frist is a noted centrist who is pro-choice on abortion and is reportedly favored by President George W. Bush and his advisor Karl Rove. Rove has developed quite a reputation of late for opposing conservatives running for elected office and leadership positions and supporting moderates and liberals who he believes are more electable.

In an even more disturbing development, the frontrunner to succeed Sen. Lott as Senate Majority Leader who appeared to be the great white hope for conservatives, outgoing Assistant Senate Republican Leader, Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK), announced he would not run and would instead support Sen. Frist, perhaps under pressure from the White House and other moderates in the party. Many conservative Senate Republicans like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) had been enthusiastically supporting Nickles as a more conservative alternative to Sen. Lott. Thankfully, pro-life conservative Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn) announced his candidacy for Senate Majority Leader to fill the pro-life void so conservatives can now support Santorum against pro-choice moderate, Bill Frist, in his bid for Senate Majority Leader.

Sen. Bill Frist
Frist

Frist's overall voting record in the Senate puts him squarely in the squishy center of the Republican Party and well below the conservative average for his fellow members of the Senate Republican Caucus. According to at least one noted conservative ranking, Frist scored somewhere between the 28th and the 30th most conservative of the forty-nine member Senate Republican Caucus in terms of his voting record during the 107th Congress. Trent Lott was rated the fifteenth most conservative member of the Caucus by the same ranking. Senate Republican Conference Chair, Rick Santorum (R-Penn), the other declared challenger for Lott's Senate Majority Leader position, scored even better than Lott as the tenth-ranked conservative in the Senate. Don Nickles was rated as the Senate's fifth most conservative member.

Frist was awarded a 'D' by Gun Owners of America for his voting record of opposing the Second Amendment rights of US citizens. He was also awarded a 'D' lifetime rating by Americans for Better Immigration for his voting record of supporting unrestricted open-borders immigration and amnesties for millions of illegal immigrant law-breakers. As objectionable as Frist's voting record is on the Second Amendment and border security issues, his record on abortion is even more troubling to social conservatives.

During his initial campaign for US Senate, Bill Frist ran as a pro-choice candidate on abortion. During an appearance on a Nashville radio station in May 1994, he stated he "would like to keep our Senators out of the [abortion] decision making process....it's a very private decision." Both the Nashville Banner and the APN Hotline reported on June 24, 1994 that Frist was noted to have "frequently" and publicly declared his position that he "does not believe abortion should be outlawed." On October 10, 1994, a Memphis Commercial Appeal report on a debate between Frist and incumbent Sen. Jim Sasser (D.-Tenn) stated, "There were some topics on which the candidates agreed -- both said they're personally opposed to abortion but don't think the government should prohibit abortions." In a later edition of the Memphis Commercial Appeal on October 28, 1994, Frist declared his opposition to a constitutional ban on abortion. On November 4, 1994 the Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Frist said during the 1994 campaign that he "would not overturn Roe v Wade" and said on at least one occasion that he supports "a woman's right to decide."

Frist's record on the life issue has continued to be mixed at best since being elected to the US Senate. In an article appearing in the Commercial Appeal on June 30, 1995, it was reported that the National Right to Life Committee "slammed" Sen. Frist for supporting Nashville obstetrician-gynecologist Henry Foster for surgeon general. Foster was defeated by Senate filibuster following his admission that he had performed nearly seven hundred "therapeutic abortions" throughout his career. Foster also admitted that he had sterilized mentally retarded patients via hysterectomy. Frist subsequently stated that Foster's record of performing several hundred abortions was totally irrelevant to the Senate's consideration of him for the post of US Surgeon General. He joined his pro-choice Democrat and Republican colleagues in unsuccessfully voting to end a filibuster by pro-life Republican Senators to end further consideration of Foster's nomination.

WorldNetDaily reported that Frist championed the nomination by President Clinton of former Surgeon General David Satcher, a fervent supporter of unrestricted abortion who like Foster performed scores of abortions. Satcher continued to serve in the Bush administration until earlier this year when he resigned due in large part to his opposition to the administration's push for abstinence sex-education, which he vehemently opposes. WorldNetDaily also reported that while Satcher's nomination was widely presumed to have originated with Vice President Al Gore, like Satcher, a Tennessean, his confirmation was actually championed by Frist.

While Frist has also joined with fellow pro-choice Republican Senate colleagues in opposing public funding for abortions, he was at the forefront of urging President Bush to support federal funding for the grisly practice of embryonic stem-cell harvesting which was consistently opposed by pro-life Presidents Ronald Reagan and the President's own father, George H.W. Bush. Frist once told National Public Radio that there are no absolute right, absolute wrong answers in medicine. The Weekly Standard also noted that Frist believes there is a moral imperative to use one unsalvageable life to save another.

An expose in Human Events on Frist's pro-choice position on abortion that ran yesterday stated that the Nashville Banner reported that one of Frist's Republican primary rivals, Steve Wilson, "demanded that Frist sell his millions of dollars in stock in the Hospital Corporation of America [HCA], which Frist's family founded. Some of the hospitals in the chain perform abortions." HCA is a for-profit hospital chain founded by his father and brother that profits from "providing" abortions to its "customers." Frist has refused to divest himself from this family-owned company that profits from performing abortions and denying the right to life to an unknown number of unborn babies every year. His refusal to do so is completely at odds with those who believe that the right to life should be protected and defended in this country.

Both Sens. Trent Lott and Rick Santorum are more conservative than Frist on all of the above-mentioned issues. For example, Lott has been very vocal in his support for increased border security including deployment of US Army troops to defend our borders from invasion by illegal immigrants and potential future 9/11 copycat terrorist perpetrators. Lott has also expressed opposition to the President's proposal to reward millions of illegal immigrants with amnesty. In marked contrast to Frist, Lott has been consistently pro-life and has declared his intention to reward pro-life conservatives with an immediate vote to ban the grisly practice of partial birth abortion as one of the initial votes of the new Republican-led 108th Congress.

Reportedly, the President and Rove have urged Lott not to pass a ban on partial birth abortion this year because it would be too divisive during a time of war. Rove reportedly held a conference call with some of the top Christian conservatives in this country and begged them to be patient and not call for the passage of a ban on partial birth abortions. While Sen. Frist has joined with several other fellow pro-choice Senators including Sen. Arlen Specter and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in supporting a ban on partial birth abortion, given his pro-choice record and his close ties to the White House would be highly unlikely to challenge the White House by trying to pass such a ban. Rick Santorum has an even more stellar record than Lott in his championing of the pro-life cause and other issues of importance to conservatives and would be much more likely than Frist to support a partial birth abortion ban against the wishes of the White House.

Santorum and his two-year-old daughter Sarah Maria enter a victory rally in Pittsburgh in this November 7, 2000 file photo
Santorum and his two-year-old daughter Sarah Maria enter a victory rally in Pittsburgh in this November 7, 2000 file photo

Given the fact that crucial federal court vacancies and up to two Supreme Court seats might become vacant during the next two years, it is absolutely critical for the GOP to continue to have a pro-life Senator like Rick Santorum as Senate Majority Leader. Sen. Frist's statements and his voting record on abortion suggest he would likely be much less inclined to support federal judges and Supreme Court judicial nominees who opposed him in their support for overturning the seminal abortion rights decision of Roe v. Wade. Senator Frist's opposition to a constitutional ban on abortion and an effort to overturn Roe v. Wade combined with his refusal to divest himself of stocks which allow him to profit by providing abortions to scores and perhaps hundreds of people each and every year disqualify him for the position of Senate Republican Leader far more than any inappropriate remarks that Senator Lott may have given.

Senate Republicans have not elected a pro-choice Senator to be their leader for at least two decades. Now is not the time to change the longtime tradition of pro-life Republican Senate leadership. Conservatives should unite in calling on their GOP Senators to defeat pro-choice Sen. Frist's bid for leadership and vote instead to elect pro-life champion, Rick Santorum, as Senate Majority Leader on January 6th. A Santorum victory would excite the GOP's conservative base and help ensure continued Republican control of the Senate after 2004 whereas a Frist victory would depress GOP base turnout and would likely result in significant Republican congressional losses in the 2004 election and potentially put at risk President Bush's re-election effort. Accordingly, a Santorum triumph would be the best possible outcome for pro-life and religious conservatives and the best outcome for the Republican Party.

David T. Pyne, Esq. currently serves as Executive Vice President of the Virginia Republican Assembly. He was recently interviewed on Howard Phillips' Conservative Roundtable TV program. © 2002 David T. Pyne

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