Evangelicals Rally for Mercury Rules

| Thu Sep. 15, 2011 4:16 PM EDT

If you think about it too hard, you might be bothered by the fact that many "pro-life" members of Congress are the same ones that want to gut environmental regulations that protect expectant mothers and their unborn children. Take, for example, the bill a House subcommittee passed on Wednesday that would block the EPA from implementing rules on mercury from cement plant smokestacks, as well as other toxic emissions. The legislators behind it claim to be pro-life, which has prompted the Evangelical Environmental Network to launch a new campaign taking those lawmakers to task.

"Pro-life members of Congress should be doing everything they can to protect the unborn from this threat," said Rev. Mitch Hescox, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network, in a press release. "For the life of me, I can't understand why some are trying to block the EPA from regulating mercury levels when they know the unborn will pay the price."

Their radio ads target Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas). They feature Rev. Tracey Bianchi, a minister from Oak Brook, Ill. and mother of three. All three of the legislators rank high on the scorecards put out by anti-abortion groups; Whitfield has a 96 percent score on the National Right to Life scorecard, while Barton got an 88, and Upton has a 74 percent. (They haven't fared as well on environmental scorecards, as you might guess.)

Eight percent of women of child-bearing age have dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies, and up to 300,000 babies born each year may be at risk of developmental problems due to the levels of mercury they were exposed to in the womb, according to the EPA. As the American Pregnancy Association highlights, mercury exposure is a health concern for pregnant women, women trying to get pregnant, and small children. So if one is worried about the unborn, mercury pollution should theoretically be on the list of concerns. Babies exposed to it in the womb "can suffer severe damage to the nervous system and may die," notes the March of Dimes, or they "may have brain damage, learning disabilities and hearing loss." (These are just the sorts of birth defects that often prompt women to have abortions, incidentally.)

EEN and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have also started a letter-writing campaign, asking members of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus to support the mercury rules. They've also launched a website, Mercury and the Unborn, which states, "Our commitment to Jesus Christ compels us to do all we can to protect unborn children from mercury poisoning."