Catholics Face Quandary on How to Fight Abortion: New Administration May Mean New Laws to Oppose

Article excerpt

The political battle over abortion, tightly focused for years on overturning or upholding Roe v. Wade, is about to splinter into an array of smaller fights waged across the federal legislative, regulatory and budgetary terrains.

The fight is shifting, according to recent interviews with activists on all sides of the issue, as the Obama administration prepares to take office with twin ambitions: reducing the number of abortions while making certain that abortion remains legal and accessible.

Almost all agree that despite the alarms being sounded in some antiabortion camps, the principal fight will not be over the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), legislation--supported by Obama--that would codify abortion rights into federal law.

The reality, most agree, is that this legislation will never be brought to a vote. Said one Washington insider and longtime pro-life activist, "As long as they're looking here [at FOCA] they're missing the point. What they ought to be paying attention to is the health-care debate."

It is in the upcoming health-care debate over reform of that system, he said, that the intent of FOCA could be realized. Indeed, the warnings are out that under health-care reform, institutions could be mandated to provide abortions, and "conscience clauses," allowing individuals or institutions to opt out of providing abortion services, could be nullified.

Precedent exists for such concern. In the run-up to the Clinton administration's attempt at health-care reform, the bishops of the United States faced the possibility of a national health-care plan requiring that abortion be covered. In May 1993, The New York Times reported: "The bishops are torn between mounting a blanket opposition to such a proposal, bargaining for a version that at least minimizes their moral concerns or withdrawing from the public debate."

In Obama's case, the incoming president could fairly quickly signal how his administration intends to deal with reproductive issues in budget proposals he submits in February, said Rachel Laser, director of the culture program at Third Way, a group that describes itself as "advancing a 21st-century progressive agenda."

Laser said that on the issue of abortion the group is in agreement with points outlined in the Obama campaign that call for budgetary and legislative measures to help reduce unwanted pregnancies and conditions that cause women to seek abortions, while protecting a woman's right to choose.

She said the president-elect in his budget "could indicate support for programs" such as "nurse visits for new moms and programs at universities and community colleges for pregnant and new mothers. …