The political winds on abortion are changing. Reacting to their election losses, Democrats are trying to fix their party’s pro-abortion image. It may just be talk, but it signals an important public trend toward valuing unborn life.
Clearly, the eight-year debate that ended in the 108th Congress’s partial-birth abortion ban awakened the conscience of the American people. Now Republicans in the 109th Congress must capitalize on that momentum to advance the pro-life agenda.
Buoyed by a public that knows the unborn baby is a human being, we can succeed in building a culture of life that protects the rights of all Americans, born and unborn. It’s wonderful news that the majority of Americans now consider themselves pro-life, and even “pro-choice” Americans favor restrictions such as the partial-birth abortion ban, parental consent laws, and the prohibition of publicly funded abortions.
At the heart of the ban on federal funding for abortions is the democratic principle of freedom of individual conscience that all Americans enjoy— no American should ever be forced to participate in someone else’s abortion. That’s why I am taking the lead to defend conscience protection.
Along with protecting minors, heightening awareness of unborn child pain, and opposing a pro-abortion litmus test for judicial nominees, defending the right of health-care providers to choose not to participate in abortions will be a key part of the life agenda and an early test for the Democrats.
The Hyde/Weldon Conscience Protection Amendment, first enacted last year as part of the fiscal 2005 appropriations bill, clarifies the law to protect the rights of both individual and institutional health-care providers from government discrimination when they decline to provide, refer, or pay for abortions.
The conscience provision must pass again this year in order to stave off legal threats to the nation’s doctors and hospitals aimed at forcing them to provide these services. To counter these attacks, in addition to the appropriations provision, later this session I plan to introduce stand-alone legislation—the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, which would bolster efforts to defend those in the health-care industry who oppose abortion.
Meanwhile, pro-abortion groups, including NARAL and NOW, are working to defeat conscience protections and any abortion restrictions in their efforts to expand abortion access. For them, 1.3 million abortions a year apparently are not enough.
And they have powerful Democratic allies. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.) is leading the effort to repeal Hyde/Weldon and prevent its inclusion in the fiscal 2006 appropriations bill. We expect a vote on the Boxer amendment by the end of April.
Working to stop Senator Boxer, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is mounting a major grassroots effort to uphold conscience protections. “This matter of conscience rights should be an area of common ground among Senators who disagree on the issue of abortion itself,” Catholic bishops, hospitals, and doctors said in a recent letter to all senators. “Surely, if ‘pro-choice’ has any meaning, it encompasses protection for a choice not to be involved in abortion against one’s will.”
Conscience is not only a life issue but one of individual liberty and religious freedom. Federal law and the laws of 47 states recognize the right of conscience. And 86 percent of America’s hospitals, both secular and religious, choose not to perform abortions. The government must respect that choice.
Together, we can win on conscience and other pro-life initiatives in this Congress. The question is, will the Democrats stand up to the pro-abortion lobby and join us?