Monday, November 22, 2004

Negotiators Add Abortion Clause to Spending Bill

From the New York Times. It seems the newly emboldened Republicans are wasting no time getting their assault underway - PolPop.

November 20, 2004

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19 - House and Senate negotiators have tucked a potentially far-reaching anti-abortion provision into a $388 billion must-pass spending bill, complicating plans for Congress to wrap up its business and adjourn for the year.

The provision may be an early indication of the growing political muscle of social conservatives who provided crucial support for Republican candidates, including President Bush, in the election.

It would bar federal, state and local agencies from withholding taxpayer money from health care providers that refuse to provide or pay for abortions or refuse to offer abortion counseling or referrals. Current federal law, aimed at protecting Roman Catholic doctors, provides such "conscience protection'' to doctors who do not want to undergo abortion training. The new language would expand that protection to all health care providers, including hospitals, doctors, clinics and insurers.

"It's something we've had a longstanding interest in," said Douglas Johnson, a spokesman for the National Right to Life Committee. He added, "This is in response to an orchestrated campaign by pro-abortion groups across the country to use government agencies to coerce health care providers to participate in abortions."

The provision could affect millions of American women, according to Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, who warned Friday that she would use procedural tactics to slow Senate business to a crawl if the language was not altered.

"I am willing to stand on my feet and slow this thing down," Ms. Boxer said. "Everyone wants to go home, I know that, and I know I will not win a
popularity contest in the Senate. But they should not be doing this. On a huge spending bill they're writing law, and they're taking away rights from women."

Ms. Boxer said that she complained to Senator Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, but that he told her that House Republican leaders insisted that the provision, which was approved by the House in July but never came to the Senate for a vote, be included in the measure.

"He said, 'Senator, they want it in, and it's going in,' " Ms. Boxer recalled.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Stevens, Melanie Alvord, said her boss would have no comment on the spending bill because House and Senate negotiators had not settled on the final language.

Some lawmakers and Congressional aides interpreted the House leaders' insistence as reflection of the new political strength of the anti-abortion movement and of Christian conservatives, who played an important role in re-electing Mr. Bush this month.

"They are catering to their right wing doing this," said Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa. "It doesn't make it right. I think this is the first step."

Mr. Harkin said he intended to try to force a vote next year on support for upholding the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortion. "I think it is time the women of America understand what ishappening here," he said.

The spending measure, called an omnibus bill, was the main reason Congress returned to Washington after the election, and members of both parties say that despite Ms. Boxer's warnings, it is likely to pass with the abortion language intact.

The alternative is to let government funding for a wide array of agencies - like the F.B.I., the National Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency - run out, in effect causing a partial government shutdown.

Lawmakers in the House and the Senate intended to vote on the omnibus bill on Saturday, when a stopgap spending measure is set to expire at midnight. Congress failed to pass 9 of its 13 required spending bills before recessing for the election, leaving much of the government - with the exception of the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security - to operate under the interim measure.


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