Obama could set pro-life movement back decades
WASHINGTON (BP)--Faced with a strengthened pro-choice majority in Congress and a new pro-choice president, pro-life groups are gearing up for a political fight to prevent passage of the Freedom of Choice Act, a bill that could set back their cause by decades.
FOCA, as it is often called, has been proposed by abortion rights supporters for two decades but now actually may have the votes for passage, particularly with President-elect Obama -- a FOCA supporter -- in office. It has two prongs: 1) it would make abortion a "fundamental right" for women and ensure that abortion remains legal even if Roe v. Wade someday is overturned and 2) would legalize partial-birth abortion once again and nullify all restrictions on abortion, such as waiting periods and parental notification laws. Additionally, it almost certainly would require taxpayer funding of abortion.
Pro-choice activists thought they had the votes for passing FOCA when President Clinton took office in 1993 with a pro-choice Congress, but pro-lifers successfully killed it. It was re-introduced in the current Congress the day after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal ban on partial-birth abortion -- with supporters of the bill championing the legislation because it would reverse the ban.
Even though Obama won't be inaugurated until Jan. 20, pro-life groups already are educating and mobilizing their constituents. Americans United for Life launched a website -- FightFoca.com -- with an online petition that has accumulated more than 300,000 signatures opposing the bill. National Right to Life also has a petition (www.nrlc.org) that can be printed out and mailed to the group's Washington office. Both organizations say they will let members of Congress know the results.
Douglas Johnson, legislative director for National Right to Life, said pro-lifers lost about 15 seats in the House and at least five in the Senate during the November election -- a Senate total that could jump to six if Republican Sen. Norm Coleman loses the recount in Minnesota to Democrat Al Franken.
Johnson estimates that pro-lifers "may be in a little bit more jeopardy now than we were" when Clinton was inaugurated in 1993. Part of that is because Obama is "more unrelenting" in his pro-choice views than was Clinton, Johnson says. Obama was one of 19 Senate co-sponsors of the bill. Asked in 2007 at a Planned Parenthood meeting what he would do as president to make sure abortion remains legal, he replied "the first thing I'd do as president is sign" the Freedom of Choice Act. Whereas Clinton, who also supported FOCA, "would sometimes fold" on the issue of abortion, Obama so far has not, Johnson said.
"Obama has never budged one inch on any issue touching abortion throughout his career in the legislature or the Congress -- even on issues where many other pro-choice lawmakers came over to our side, like the partial-birth issue or the born-alive infants issue," Johnson said. "If you put all that together, we have to recognize that there is a very real danger that the new Congress could approve something even as radical as the Freedom of Choice Act."
When Clinton took office there were 57 senators and 258 representatives from his own party. Including independents who caucus with Democrats, Obama will have at least 57 senators and 256 representatives.
Days after Obama's election, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops went on record warning about the dangers of FOCA, with some saying the bill could force Catholic hospitals to choose between performing abortions and shutting down. Other religious-run hospitals could face similar decisions. Such a move could have a dramatic impact on the health care system. In his Nov. 12 Washington Update e-mail, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council cited stats from conservative blogger Ed Morrissey and wrote, "Catholics run more than 550 hospitals and 415 clinics in America, spending billions out of pocket to help the disadvantaged get the care they need. Under FOCA, religious providers would have two options: either comply with the abortion mandate or end their services completely. Is Congress so intent on appeasing Planned Parenthood that it would jeopardize the health care of 90 million Americans? We'll see."
The good news for pro-lifers is that the bill has not passed the House or Senate this Congress, much less made it through a committee. Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, told Baptist Press she is taking Obama at his word that he wants to reduce abortion. She also pointed out that Obama himself said during the campaign he wanted to avoid dividing Americans on cultural issues.
"If that bill comes up, it is going to be really divisive," she said. "It's a radical bill. It would be a big mistake to bring it up. I don't think it would get out of the House."
Day also said she cannot see a scenario where Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid would bring the Freedom of Choice Act to the floor.
"I don't think it will even get considered," she said.
But that doesn't mean pro-lifers shouldn't be prepared. Johnson says the pro-life side has a winning argument when it comes to FOCA, which Johnson calls the most radical pro-choice bill ever introduced.
"Many lawmakers who are supporters of Roe vs. Wade and legal abortion would be voting for something that the sponsors of the bill acknowledge would wipe out laws that are in effect in their own states -- parental notification, cutting off state funding for abortion, 24-hour waiting periods," Johnson said. "These laws are on the books in so many states because they have broad popular support, so that gives pause to some members of Congress when they start to get down to the specifics.
"The sponsors of FOCA proclaim that the bill is needed so they can nullify the ban on partial-birth abortions. Well, that ban has very broad public support. So when you get down to specifics -- beyond the labels -- they may find that they start to lose some support. But it's a danger and we take it very seriously."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.