Senators voted 57-35 for the omnibus spending bill -- a conglomeration of appropriations bills for multiple federal agencies -- that will, among other things, end a longstanding ban on government funds for abortions in the country's capital. The House of Representatives approved the same measure in a 221-202 roll call Dec. 10.
President Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law.
The bill would repeal the Dornan Amendment, which has barred federal and local funds for the District of Columbia from paying for abortions since 1996. The spending measure's language says it prohibits federal funding of abortions in D.C. but permits local money to be used.
Pro-lifers point out, however, that language is meaningless because federal and local funds are combined for the district. As a result, the D.C. government can avoid the ban simply by specifying as local the money used to underwrite abortions.
That provision is part of a conference report, H.R. 3288, which was agreed upon by a committee of representatives and senators, for agencies that include the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Justice, Labor, State and Health and Human Services.
In a Dec. 11 letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land urged opposing the spending bill.
Land, 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."
"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.
Three Democrats -- Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Claire McCaskill of Missouri -- joined 32 Republicans in voting against the omnibus spending bill. The three Democrats, however, did not oppose the measure based on its expansion of abortion funding.
Three Republicans -- Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine and Richard Shelby of Alabama -- voted with 52 Democrats and two independents in support of the bill.
Reid cast his vote for the measure, while McConnell voted against it.
Eight senators did not vote.
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.
Submitted by the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.
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