For some abortion rights groups, this constitutes a grave crisis: "Eighty-four percent of counties in the United States do not have an abortion provider," announces a Maryland NARAL fact sheet.
What are people who believe in abortion doing to expand access? Are they collecting donations to build and subsidize charitable rural abortion clinics, as they are entitled to under the law? Oh, no. Instead, NARAL and other abortion advocacy groups have launched nationwide campaigns to use the courts and legislatures to force hospitals (including Catholic hospitals) to provide abortion services.
Catholic hospitals are an especially juicy target, because they are often the only hospitals in rural areas. Catholic hospitals, charitable endeavors, spend over $2.8 billion more than they take in providing high-quality health care in poor and rural areas.
Remember, the overwhelming majority of abortions do not take place in hospitals, but in doctors' offices or clinics. The effect of these forced abortion laws is not to increase access, but to redefine abortion, an elective surgery undertaken primarily for social (not medical) reasons, as basic health care. In fact, the preferred Orwellian language is to relabel abortion as a "reproductive health service," despite the, shall we say, weak evidence that abortion assists in reproduction or improves health.
As always, the political playing field is unfair. Abortion advocates get a huge leg up from increasingly corrupt courts, which have interpreted a conscience clause intended to protect hospitals and medical personnel from forced involvement in abortion in the narrowest possible manner.
In Florida, a private nonsectarian hospital, Bayfront Medical Center, tried to join a nonprofit consortium that had a pro-life policy. The City of St. Petersburg filed a federal lawsuit, claiming Bayfront violated its lease (which required it to accept patients regardless of creed) and that refusing to perform abortions amounted to an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Faced with mounting legal fees, Bayfront settled by leaving the consortium.
In New Jersey, abortion advocates tried to pressure a Catholic health system to build an abortion clinic on its premises to ensure better access to abortion. The ACLU has launched a project urging politicians to cut off funding to hospitals that do not perform abortions.
In Alaska, Valley Hospital, a nonprofit, nonsectarian community hospital, adopted a policy permitting abortions at the hospital only in the case of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother. This is the same policy the federal government has for Medicaid and other health programs. But the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that because Valley Hospital took Medicaid patients, it was a quasi-public organization, and must perform abortions. As Karen Vosburgh, director of the association board at Valley Hospital, testified before a House subcommittee in July: "For those of us who share (the) view -- that abortion is a form of violence, not a form of health care -- being required to provide and support it is a grave injustice."
Will NARAL, the ACLU and others succeed in driving Catholic and other pro-life medical providers out of business? To prevent these efforts to coerce hospitals, doctors, nurses and insurance providers to participate in abortions, the House recently passed the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act. A similar measure has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. "No hospital should be forced by government to perform abortions that violate its core beliefs and tenets," Rep. Dick Armey declared. "Congress should protect these hospitals and not force them to perform abortions against their faith."
So now the Democrat-controlled Senate has to decide: Are they pro-choice or only anti-Catholic?
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.