The House of Representatives approved Dec. 10 an omnibus spending measure for multiple federal agencies that will, among other things, drop a longstanding ban on government funds for abortions in the District of Columbia. The roll call was 221-202, with 28 Democrats joining 174 Republicans in opposing the legislation.
The vote came on a conference report, H.R. 3288, that was forwarded from a committee of representatives and senators who had agreed to a yearly spending proposal for agencies that include the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Justice, Labor, Health and Human Services, and State.
The conference report will now go to the Senate for the potentially final legislative step before being sent to President Obama.
Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a Dec. 11 letter to oppose the legislation.
The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission told the Senate leaders the bill "injects radical social policies opposed by most Southern Baptists and millions of other Americans."
The bill would rescind the Dornan Amendment, which has barred federal and local funds for the District of Columbia from paying for abortions since 1996. The bill's language says it prohibits federal funding of abortions in D.C. but permits local money to be used. Pro-lifers point out, however, the ban is meaningless because federal and local funds are combined for the district. As a result, the D.C. government can specify as local the money used to underwrite abortions.
"This is a clear violation of millions of Americans' deeply held beliefs," Land said in his letter. "The nation's capital already has one of the highest abortion rates in the country. Failure to include this amendment would certainly increase those numbers."
Various studies have shown limitations on government funding of abortion produce a decline in the number of abortions. In June, the Guttmacher Institute, which is identified with the abortion rights movement, reported its review of literature on the subject showed about 25 percent of the women who would have had Medicaid-funded abortions chose instead to give birth when they were barred from using public money.
Among the conference report's other "appalling" provisions, Land said in his letter, are:
-- An increase of $10 million to a total of more than $317 million for the federal government's Title X family planning program, "much of which is directed to Planned Parenthood," the country's No. 1 abortion provider.
-- An additional $5 million in funds for the United Nations Population Fund, increasing the amount to $55 million for the agency that was barred from receiving money during the final seven years of President George W. Bush's administration because of its support for China's coercive population control policy.
-- A boost of $103 million for international family planning, funds that are no longer barred from use by organizations that perform or promote abortions after President Obama revoked the Mexico City Policy.
-- The establishment of a $110 million initiative "expected to advance condom promotion education," as well as the elimination of funds for sexual abstinence training.
-- The repeal of a prohibition on funds for domestic partnerships in D.C.
-- The reversal of a ban on money for a campaign to legalize marijuana in the district.
Before the House's Dec. 10 vote, Land also sent a letter to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Minority Leader John Boehner, urging them to vote against the spending measure. Hoyer supported the bill in the roll call, while Boehner opposed it.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called the omnibus bill "a wish list of the far left."
"I ask the Senate to reject this insult to children and families," Perkins said in a written statement. "Combined with the health care bill this Congress is showing abortion funding is its number one goal."
The Senate rejected Dec. 8 an effort led by Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska to amend health-care legislation to prohibit federal funding for abortions in a government-managed program and federal subsidies for private insurance plans that cover abortions.
Thirty-five Republican senators wrote Reid Dec. 2, implying they would filibuster spending legislation that overturns "longstanding funding limitations on abortion." They would need six more senators to join them, however, in order to prevent the bill from receiving a floor vote.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.
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