The White House wimped out. That’s what I believe happened today. The White House did some good and then avoided a nasty fight in an election year.

The Bush administration was looking to strike a blow for religious freedom. So they were looking into requiring all recipients of federal aid to certify that they will not refuse to hire nurses and other providers who object to abortion and even certain types of birth control.

And they did that. And this is good. But one of the keys to the proposal was a subtle shift in language where it defined abortion as follows:

“any of the various procedures — including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.

That was a big addition as, from what I understand, the government has always followed the ridiculous assertion that a woman wasn’t pregnant until implantation.

Federal employment law already prohibits firing workers for refusing to perform abortions. But the proposed rules would have extended those rules to include emergency contraception, also known as the “morning-after pill,” which is sold under the brand name Plan B. If taken within 72 hours of sex, the drug reduces the risk of implantation. Some pharmacists have bravely refused to dispense the drug on moral grounds that this is simply an early abortion. This has touched off legal fights in many states.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said the proposed rule decided to drop the “controversial language” that existed in an earlier draft. Critics of that clause were gearing up for a fight accusing Republicans of being against birth control.

The wording would have allowed pharmacists and health care providers to refuse to supply emergency contraception. The media, the Democrats, and the abortion lobby would have been everywhere playing on the fear that Republicans were stifling women’s access to birth control. They’d be screaming “Republicans want us barefoot and pregnant.” They’d be accusing Republicans of “dragging women back to the Middle Ages.” And that’s a public relations fight that Republicans just don’t ever win.

Presidential hopeful Senator John McCain soon would have been forced to make a pronouncement on it. If he agreed with the the White House, he’d lose some of the “Independent” woman vote. If he distanced himself from the White House he’d likely lose some pro-life conservative voters who likely never really trusted McCain to begin with. So no matter what, defining pregnancy to include a pre-implantation fetus as a human being would clearly have hurt McCain in the general election.

So there were plenty of very strong political reasons to shy away from this fight. But, of course, there was one very good reason to take this fight on. And that is, protecting the unborn is ALWAYS the right thing to do. Protecting life must be our ultimate mandate as humans, as a culture, as a country.

I thank President George W. Bush for many things including his nomination of Justices Roberts and Alito. I thank him for pushing a pro-life agenda. But I am very disappointed in this duck of a worthy fight. Because we’re never going to win unless we actually talk about these issues. Because in the end, our greatest hope is not in winning elections, it’s in gaining eternity.