Fight of Their Lives: What Anti-Abortion Activists Can Expect from an Obama Administration

By Dougherty, Michael Brendan | The American Conservative, January 12, 2009 | Go to article overview

Fight of Their Lives: What Anti-Abortion Activists Can Expect from an Obama Administration


Dougherty, Michael Brendan, The American Conservative


ABORTION NEVER BECAME a major issue in the 2008 campaign. But Barack Obama's promise of change extends to the modest legal protections pro-lifers have managed to enact on behalf of the unborn. He has pledged to eliminate them.

By next spring, the incoming administration and pro-life activists will be locked in a series of battles over healthcare mandates, federal funding of abortion, and the composition of delegations to UN conferences. Pro-lifers believe that everything they have worked for since Roe is at risk. In a speech at Catholic University, Cardinal Francis Stafford said that Obama's "extremist anti-life platform ... is aggressive, disruptive and apocalyptic." He summed up the dark mood of his fellow activists: "On November 4, 2008, America suffered a cultural earthquake."

Pro-lifers have reason to be worried. Obama has been an abortion-rights leader throughout his career. As a state senator in 2002, he spoke out against a bill that would have extended legal protections to infants who survive botched abortions in Illinois, saying the measure "was actually designed to overturn Roe v. Wade." He helped scuttle the same bill as a committee chairman in 2003. Obama's opposition stands out because that law was modeled on a similar federal "born-alive" bill that received unanimous approval in a 98-0 vote in the U.S. Senate the year before. Early in his primary campaign, Obama promised Planed Parenthood, "The first thing I'd do as president is, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing I'd do."

According to the National Organization of Women, the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) would "sweep away hundreds of anti-abortion laws and policies." The proposed law states, "A government may not (1) deny or interfere with a woman's right to choose (A) to bear a child; (B) to terminate a pregnancy ... (2) discriminate against the exercise of the rights set forth in paragraph (1)." Parental consent laws that exist in 36 states would disappear. "Conscience laws" that protect doctors and hospitals in 47 states would be jeopardized by the discrimination clause. The federal partial-birth abortion ban would be overturned. The Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal funding of abortion, would be abrogated. Essentially, FOCA would undo all the work pro-lifers have done to place legal limits on abortion since Roe. Professor Michael New, in a study published with the conservative Heritage Foundation, estimated that FOCA would result in approximately 125,000 more abortions performed annually.

FOCA hasn't been seriously debated since 1993, the last time Democrats held majorities in Congress. Nearly two-thirds of the current members in the Senate have never cast a vote on it. Douglas Johnson, legislative director at National Right to Life, estimates that there are "58 Senators who are for Roe v. Wade, but not all of them are for FOCA because it goes so much further than Roe."

The fight over FOCA could have serious consequences for healthcare generally. At the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, church leaders promised to close Catholic hospitals--nearly a third of all American hospitals--if FOCA passes. Selling these healthcare institutions to groups that would perform abortions was deemed to be "material cooperation with an intrinsic evil" and ruled out. One bishop, Paul Loverde of Arlington, suggested another tactic for fighting FOCA: civil disobedience. At a diocesan event in December, he told a crowd, "I would say, 'Yeah, I'm not going to close the hospital, you're going to arrest me, go right ahead. You'll have to drag me out. ... we will not perform abortions, and you can go take a flying leap.'"

Fr. Frank Pavone, the national director of Priests for Life, agrees with Bishop Loverde's defiant stand, but doesn't anticipate such a dramatic showdown: "It is certainly possible to defeat FOCA itself and also possible to modify and weaken it by preserving 'freedom of choice' for healthcare workers and institutions who freely choose not to participate in abortions. …

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