First on the Obama administration's to-do list: a stimulus
package, bailouts, and ... abortion? Given the imperatives of the
economic crisis, picking an abortion fight early on would seem
But the Roman Catholic Church is coordinating a national postcard
campaign next month to oppose the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA).
Abortion opponents fear the new Democratic majority in Washington
could succeed in passing the decades-old bill and Barack Obama would
make good on what he told Planned Parenthood in July: "The first
thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act."
The bill could wipe out federal and state restrictions on
abortion such as parental notification and informed consent laws.
Some say FOCA is so broad it would also imperil "conscience clauses"
that protect hospitals and doctors who refuse to perform abortions
because of their convictions. That's led some Catholic leaders to
threaten to close their hospitals if FOCA forced them to provide
Rhetoric aside, it's not certain that FOCA will move in Congress,
much less get passed in its current form. Scholars are divided on
whether the current bill actually jeopardizes conscience clauses -
though they agree it is too vague.
"Congress should darn well clarify this, because if we don't, we
will be back where we were when Roe came down and everyone was
thrown into a tailspin," says Robin Wilson, an expert on conscience
clauses at the University of Maryland's law school.
When the Supreme Court legalized abortion, lawsuits began to fly
over whether doctors and hospitals could refuse to provide the
procedure. Legislators settled the question by passing conscience
clauses in 47 states. These seek to balance an individual's or
institution's freedom of conscience with patients' access to
If FOCA undermines conscience clauses - Dr. Wilson says she's not
sure it would - "the floodgates would be opened" for litigation
against hospitals and doctors refusing procedures.
Current iterations of FOCA don't mention conscience clauses, but
in 1993, the last time there was a push on it, the bill was amended
to protect the clauses but ultimately failed.
"It was acknowledged by all sides this was [a danger] of the
FOCA. And, in fact, the current FOCA is even broader than that one,"
says Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to
The current bill states that "a government may not deny or
interfere with a woman's right to choose" nor "discriminate against
the exercise" of that right. The words "interfere" and
"discriminate" jeopardize conscience clauses for Mr. Johnson.
Conscience clauses tend to protect decisions made by doctors and
hospitals, not the state. …