By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 26, 2009 ( – U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, one of the leading forces of liberalism in the Senate for over a quarter-century, died Tuesday night at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. 

Kennedy had been battling brain cancer since it was diagnosed in May 2008.  He was chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee at the time of his death.

Known as “the lion of the Senate,” Kennedy was one of the most formidable opponents to American conservatism ever to claim a seat in the Senate.  NARAL awarded a 100% pro-abortion voting record to the Massachusetts senator, who also championed embryonic stem cell research and same-sex “marriage.”  He was one of only fourteen senators who voted against the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.  Kennedy was also a driving force behind the expansion of “hate crimes” legislation to include special protection for homosexuals.

One of the most infamous moments in Kennedy's career was his nearly single-handed defeat in 1987 of President Reagan's pro-life nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Robert Bork, whom Kennedy lambasted as envisioning America as “a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions.”  The speech ushered in a new era of senatorial contention over presidential nominations to the Supreme Court.

The last great impact the pro-abortion Massachusetts senator had on Capitol Hill was the introduction of the health care legislation currently fighting its way through Congress: Kennedy called the project of universal health care, for which he had advocated for decades, “the cause of my life.” 

Kennedy's absence from the Senate floor during his illness was seen as a detriment to smoothing over acceptance of the measure.  With his death, the Obama administration permanently lost a famed negotiator and key ally in passing the bills, which have met with mounting opposition from conservatives and pro-life advocates decrying the expansion of abortion embedded in the legislation.

The new vacancy also renders the Senate vulnerable to a filibuster by Republicans: before, Senate Democrats had 60 votes, just enough to block possible GOP efforts to kill legislation with delay tactics.  Aware that passage of his health care bill would be imperiled by his death, Sen. Kennedy had asked Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick only last week to change state law to allow the Democrat governor to appoint an interim senator.  It is unclear whether the state government will grant Kennedy's wish, as the state legislature is on recess until early September.

As a prominent Catholic, Kennedy's aggressive pro-abortion politics was a constant source of scandal to the Catholic community.  But it was not always so: in the years before the abortion industry took hold of the Democrat party, Kennedy, like many of his fellow abortion-promoting Democrats, was pro-life.

“Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized – the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old,” wrote Kennedy in a letter to Catholic League member Tom Dennelly in 1971.

“When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.”

Though the pro-life movement considered Kennedy one of the great enemies to the pro-life cause after his change of heart, pro-life leaders nonetheless offered Kennedy their prayers after learning of the cancer diagnosis.

“We're all praying for him,” Joe Scheidler, head of the Pro-Life Action League, told after Kennedy's diagnosis last year.  “We hope his ailment will bring conversion.  We can't wish anyone eternal punishment.”

See related coverage:

Pro-Life Movement Offers Sen. Kennedy Prayers and Forgiveness as He Faces Potentially Fatal Brain Tumor

Senator Ted Kennedy: “A vote for this (marriage) amendment is a vote for bigotry pure and simple.”