In reducing abortions, House bills diverge

WASHINGTON (BP)--Two proposals in Congress are being promoted as abortion-reduction measures, but one actually would increase the number of unborn children killed by the procedure in the United States, according to major pro-life organizations.

Democrat Reps. Tim Ryan of Ohio and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut rolled out July 23 a bill publicized as a "common ground" approach to reducing abortions. Some fanfare accompanied their reintroduction of the legislation, with a diversity of organizations and spokesmen endorsing the proposal. The supporters ranged from some evangelical Christians to the country's leading abortion rights advocacy organizations, NARAL Pro-choice America and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The Ryan-DeLauro bill, however, is not "common ground" but a "compromise for the pro-life community" alone, said Southern Baptist public policy specialist Barrett Duke. It is a compromise that "provides federal funding and stipulations that will result in more abortions," Duke said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Lincoln Davis, D.-Tenn., continues his less publicized effort to build support for his abortion-reduction bill, one many pro-life advocates support. His Pregnant Women Support Act, H.R. 2035, would provide information and aid to women during and after their pregnancies without opening up the government's purse for abortion providers.

Davis' proposal is a legislative outgrowth of the 95-10 Initiative promoted by Democrats for Life of America. That initiative seeks to reduce the number of abortions by 95 percent in 10 years. Sen. Robert Casey, D.-Pa., has a companion measure in the other chamber.

The Pregnant Women Support Act (PWSA) is a multi-pronged approach that includes such proposals as: Informed consent by a woman before undergoing an abortion; federal grants for ultrasound equipment in health centers; a toll-free phone number for access to support services for women during and after pregnancies; programs to aid pregnant and parenting high school and college students; elimination of pregnancy as a pre-existing condition in health care; and an increase of the adoption tax credit.

Ryan and DeLauro's bill -- the Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion, and Supporting Parents Act, H.R. 3312 -- includes some similar measures, but, unlike Davis' proposal, it does not require abortion providers to obtain informed consent from a woman before performing an abortion on her. It also addresses pregnancy prevention through comprehensive sex education, expanded access to contraceptives and more money for "family planning."

The result of the Ryan-DeLauro proposal, pro-life leaders say, would be more abortions, increased federal funds for abortion and abortion providers, and greater access to a "morning-after" pill that is not only a contraceptive but an abortifacient.

In a four-page analysis for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), Duke said the Ryan-DeLauro bill would: 1) Increase funding for Planned Parenthood, the country's No. 1 abortion provider; 2) expand access to and coverage for "family planning services," which include abortion, and 3) train teenagers about and encourage their use of Plan B, a "morning after" pill that is labeled as a contraceptive even though it can cause an early abortion.

The Ryan-DeLauro bill would more than double funding for Title X, the federal government's family planning program. Planned Parenthood is the largest recipient of Title X funds.

Though Title X recipients are barred from using federal grants for abortions, Planned Parenthood affiliates are "able to use these funds for their other activities and administrative costs, freeing up money from other sources, including from the states, to fund their abortion-related activities," wrote Duke, the ERLC's vice president for public policy and research.

The Ryan-DeLauro legislation proposes the establishment of "campus-based family planning services" for community college students and requires states to include "family planning" coverage for Medicaid patients, Duke said. The inclusion of abortion in "family planning services" is an "established fact," he said.

At least seven federal courts of appeals have determined Medicaid covers abortion under "family planning" unless specifically excluded, according to Americans United for Life, a pro-life legal and policy organization based in Chicago.

The Ryan-Delauro bill "takes away the flexibility that the states have had in designing their plans, by mandating that 'family planning' -- which federal courts read to include elective abortion -- be included," said Americans United for Life Senior Counsel Clarke Forsythe in a written statement. "Under Ryan-DeLauro, states can no longer opt out from paying for elective abortion."

Plan B is a heavier dose of birth control pills. Under the regimen, a woman takes two pills within 72 hours of sexual intercourse and another dose 12 hours later. The drug, also known as "emergency contraception," works to restrict ovulation in a woman. It also can act after conception, thereby causing an abortion, pro-lifers point out. This mechanism of the drug blocks implantation of a tiny embryo in the uterine wall.

A previous version of the Ryan-DeLauro bill excluded Plan B and other abortion-causing drugs, but the new bill does not, Duke said.

"The absence of this qualifying language from [Ryan-DeLauro] means that the writers intend to allow federal funding of abortion-inducing drugs and other abortion-related devices and services," he wrote.

The Ryan-DeLauro proposal provides "some helpful safety net services" for women in crisis pregnancies, but it "is an abortion bill," Duke said. "While it is promoted as a compromise bill that people on all sides of the abortion debate can support, in reality it is not. It is only a compromise for the pro-life community. The pro-abortion community has not given up anything in this bill."

Ryan defended his bill in an Aug. 7 letter to the editor of the Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator, saying its focus is on both "preventing unintended pregnancies and providing support for women who do become pregnant."

He is convinced in order to have "meaningful reductions in abortion, there must be a contraception component included to prevent unintended pregnancies," Ryan wrote. "[W]e can't reduce abortions without preventing unintended pregnancies and providing support for low-income women. My legislation does both."

In this legislative effort, Ryan describes himself, and is described by his allies, as a pro-lifer. He has not cast a pro-life vote in the House since 2006, however, according to the National Right to Life Committee. In that time, the fourth-term congressman's votes have included support for funding embryonic stem cell research, as well as opposition to bans on both Title X money for Planned Parenthood and funds for organizations that perform or promote abortions overseas.

The Ryan-DeLauro legislation has 41 cosponsors, but none of the House's pro-life leaders have signed on. No Republicans are cosponsors.

"Having a bill that is solely Democratic with solely pro-choice [congressional] support to me is not common ground," said Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, which supports the Pregnant Women Support Act but not the Ryan-DeLauro proposal. There are a "lot of problems in the Ryan-DeLauro bill for the pro-life side," she told Baptist Press.

The Pregnant Women Support Act has 39 cosponsors, including pro-life leaders from both sides of the aisle. It has 12 GOP members among its cosponsors.

Davis is "going to keep working on his bill and drum up as much interest as possible," said Jon Boughtin, his legislative assistant.

The Southern Baptist congressman believes his bill "has the most potential to draw real consensus on the issue," Boughtin told Baptist Press. It also has a genuine chance to reduce the number of abortions, he said. "That's Mr. Davis' goal."

President Obama, who has worked to rescind various pro-life policies since taking office, has called for reducing abortions or the need for abortions but has not proposed or endorsed a legislative approach to such an effort.


Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press.

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