Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - The resignation of Senate Majority Leader-elect Trent Lott Friday was preceded by much speculation that, if Lott resigned the post, Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) would replace him. As that prediction moved one step closer to becoming a reality, Frist's pro-life credentials came under fire.
Frist waited to voice his opinion about Trent Lott's perceived racist comments at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday celebration, which took place on Dec. 5, until after President Bush had spoken Dec. 12.
"President Bush's comments [Dec. 12] were necessary and proper. Senator Lott's choice of words was insensitive," Frist said. "Those words do not represent the values of our country. They are not the values of the Republican Party."
The Tennessee Republican's willingness to accept the majority leader position was initially doubted by some who thought he might have presidential aspirations. The senator dismissed those doubts in a statement Thursday.
"During the course of the day [Thursday], I have been approached by several of my colleagues in the Republican caucus. They said they would like to support me for majority leader of the United States Senate and asked if I would agree for them to call other colleagues to determine the viability of such an effort," Frist said.
"I indicated to them that if it is clear that a majority of the Republican Caucus believes a change in leadership would benefit the institution of the United States Senate, I will likely step forward for that role," he added.
The only challenger to defeat a full-term incumbent when he was first elected to the Senate in 1994, Frist has received a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee every year since 1997, the earliest year for which ratings are published on the group's website.
'Bill Frist Is Not Pro-Life'
But another, more aggressive pro-life group gives Frist a very different grade.
"Bill Frist is not pro-life," said Judie Brown, president and co-founder of American Life League, whose members believe in the sanctity of "innocent human life from fertilization to natural death; without compromise, without exception, without apology."
"He's made all kinds of strange statements," Brown said of Frist, "and is a shareholder in a huge for-profit hospital company that does abortions."
She is referring to Hospital Corporation of America (HCA). The senator's late father, Dr. Thomas Frist, Sr., and brother, Dr. Thomas Frist, Jr., founded HCA in 1968. The company merged with Columbia Hospital Corporation in 1994 to become Columbia/HCA.
Stephen Ally of the Timothy Plan, a pro-life, pro-family, biblically based mutual fund group, confirmed to CNSNews.com that the plan does not invest in Columbia/HCA stock, primarily because of the hospital chain's policy allowing abortions to be performed at its facilities.
Columbia/HCA representatives have not responded to multiple press inquiries about the company's abortion policy.
Conservatives Question Possible Double Standard
According to Senate records, Frist held a minimum of $5,000,001 in Columbia/HCA stock in a blind trust originated in December 2000 and just over $560,000 in 15 other companies.
The amount of Columbia/HCA stock could be as high as $74,930,085, but is not specified because of the value range ($1,001 to $15,001) within which senators are allowed to classify their holdings.
Terence Jeffrey, editor of Human Events, noted that, regardless of the dollar amount in question, the report indicates that 89 percent of Sen. Frist's stock holdings are in Columbia/HCA. He believes that fact forces other Republican senators to face what could be a politically uncomfortable question.
"If it is disqualifying for their Senate leader to make offensive remarks interpreted as endorsing an immoral policy that denied African-Americans equal rights," Jeffrey asked in Friday's edition of the national conservative weekly newsmagazine, "is it also disqualifying for their Senate leader to make money from a hospital chain that denies unborn babies the right to life?"
The answer to that question, according to Brown, is an unwavering, "Yes!"
"I'm horrified," she said at the thought of Frist becoming Senate majority leader.
His support of Clinton nominee, Dr. David Satcher, to the post of surgeon general also irritated many pro-life activists. Satcher was routinely criticized for his endorsement of the "safe-sex" philosophy promoted by the Clinton administration.
Brown: Pro-Life Conservatives Have A Better Choice
Brown suggested that for those who truly believe in the sanctity of human life, there is a better choice.
"I'd pick Don Nickles (R-Okla.)," she said. "I wouldn't even have to think about it."
As an example of the difference between the two on life issues, Brown noted that Frist voted for the Schumer Amendment to the 2002 bankruptcy bill.
The amendment blocked peaceful pro-life protesters from filing bankruptcy to void large cash judgments awarded to abortion clinic owners who sue the protesters, knowing they often have little money to mount a legal defense.
Blocking such filings allows the clinic owners to force the sale of protesters' homes, vehicles and other personal assets that could otherwise be protected through bankruptcy. Lott also voted for the amendment, which passed 80 to 17. Nickles voted against it.
Brown also dismissed those who charge that Nickles is too abrasive to carry out the "sensitive negotiations" demanded of a majority leader.
"It's time for senators to stand up and be counted," she urged. "People like Don Nickles will stand up ... and say that abortion kills a person.
"You can be so soft spoken, and so desirous of not offending anybody that you don't do anything substantive to stop abortion," Brown continued. "We've got 30 years of history to show us that that's not working."
Frist's Official Position on Abortion
In a statement emailed in response to an inquiry from CNSNews.com, Nick Smith, spokesman for Frist, wrote that Frist's ownership of Columbia/HCA stock and his position on abortion are "separate and distinct" issues.
"On his own accord, by placing his assets in a federally qualified blind trust, Senator Frist took a step above and beyond to ensure there is no conflict of interest," Smith wrote. "He believes this was the proper and responsible thing to do. He has never been employed by, or served on the board of, HCA or any of its hospitals."
Smith also stated that Frist's "record on abortion is clear."
"He is opposed to abortion except in the instances of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is threatened," Smith wrote. "He is opposed to federal funding of abortions. And in the Senate, he led the fight against partial-birth abortions."
Frist's website does not list abortion among the 14 top issues detailed on its homepage. A keyword search for "abortion" yielded only seven results, one of which is an email link, one a reference to former President Clinton's pro-abortion policies, and six to the partial-birth abortion debate.
No statement of Frist's position on abortion in general could be located.
There is a statement, however, regarding the issue of cloning.
"No one can deny the potential human cloning holds for increased scientific understanding," Frist wrote.
"But given the serious ethical concerns this research raises, the fact that promising embryonic stem cell research will continue even under a cloning ban, the lack of significant research in animal models, and the existence of promising alternatives, I am unable to find a compelling justification for allowing human cloning today," he wrote.
That last part of Frist's statement troubles Human Events' Jeffrey.
"As Bill Clinton might say, that doesn't rule out tomorrow," Jeffrey observed, "when he may be Senate majority leader."
Republican senators had tentatively scheduled a Jan. 6 meeting to discuss Lott's fate. No announcement has been made as to whether or not they will wait until that date to hold an election for a new majority leader.
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