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If Democrats in Congress have their way, and if Barack Obama is elected president, a sweeping bill codifying the Roe v. Wade decision would reverse years of pro-life gains.
BY ROBERT KUMPELREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
WASHINGTON — If Democrats in
Congress have their way, and if Barack Obama is elected president, a sweeping
bill codifying the Roe v. Wade decision
would reverse years of pro-life gains.
Obama told the Planned Parenthood
Action Fund on July 17 that “The first thing I’ll
do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act.”
introduced in 1989, the Freedom of Choice Act (known as FOCA), would codify Roe v. Wade as a
“fundamental right” and retroactively nullify all restrictions on abortion,
specifically “every federal, state and local statute, ordinance,
regulation, administrative order, decision, policy, practice, or other action
enacted, adopted, or implemented before, on, or after the date of enactment of
In the last presidential debate, GOP
candidate John McCain didn’t address FOCA directly, but reiterated his stance
that Roe v. Wade was a “bad decision.”
“We have to change the culture of
America,” he continued. “Those of us who are proudly pro-life understand that.
And it’s got to be courage and compassion that we show to a young woman who’s
facing this terribly difficult decision.”
The bill was reintroduced in April
2007 after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Gonzales v. Carhart
decision, upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban signed by President Bush.
One of FOCA’s most vocal opponents
has been Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn. Bishop Finn is concerned that in the event
of Obama winning the election, FOCA would soon be signed into law.
“It could be brought very quickly,
especially with the majorities in both houses and a pro-abortion president. It
would nullify any kind of limitations on abortion laws throughout the country
on the federal, state and local level. That would include parental notification
and permission laws and laws that prohibit
taking a minor across state lines.”
Parental notification and permission
laws are now in place in 44 states.
In a 2005 interview, FOCA co-sponsor
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., told The Progressive
magazine, “What we want, Democrats, and what we’ve always wanted, is to make
abortion safe, legal and rare.”
For Bishop Finn, Boxer’s words ring
hollow: “There are those who argue that somehow a president who would do more
for the poor would somehow decrease abortions. But clearly this would be an
action that would bring an end to many things that are successful in limiting
the number of abortions. Some calculations of the benefit of these laws
indicate that they are responsible for reducing the number of abortions
annually by 125,000 or more.”
FOCA’s supporters insist that the
act would simply codify Roe v. Wade.
Support for and opposition to FOCA
runs almost directly along party lines, favoring Congress’ Democratic majority,
although there are more pro-abortion Republicans than pro-life Democrats.
According to an ABC News report Oct.
14, Democrats are aiming for a supermajority in Congress this year. If the
party can gain control of 60 seats in the Senate, they will have a
filibuster-proof majority, allowing them to push through bolder policy changes.
One opponent to FOCA is U.S. Rep.
Todd Akin, R-Mo. Spokesman Steve Taylor said that Akin is opposed to “any
legislation that would kill parental-notification laws. He’s been an ardent
advocate of laws which promote the culture of life. This is the type of bill
that would be in the exact opposite direction of what Congressman Akin and many
in the pro-life community have been looking for for years.”
Staffers for pro-choice Democrats seemed less willing to discuss their bosses’
positions. Of the 19 pro-choice senators and congressmen and congresswomen
called for this story, only one offered a statement, delivered through a staff
member: Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of California. “The Freedom of Choice Act
was based on every woman’s basic civil right to make her health-care decisions
with her doctor,” the statement said. “In our plural society, it is critical to
remember that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is an intensely personal
decision that no one takes lightly and that people of different faiths approach
differently. This bill protects women’s health and is important to all
Americans who value religious freedom, equality and privacy.”
Deidre McQuade, assistant director
for policy and communications for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’
Pro-Life Secretariat, is quite familiar with FOCA and can’t see how Sanchez
could interpret any “religious freedom” in the bill.
“It would establish abortion as a
fundamental right against which discrimination would be illegal. It would wipe
out and undermine every pro-life gain that has been made in the past 36 years.
It would also undermine conscience rights, forcing doctors who oppose abortion
to at very least, refer for them. It’s a strange notion of what conscience
entails, that if you refer and let someone else do it that you are not
complicit, as if you were not materially participating in the evil of
Like Bishop Finn, McQuade believes
that the few restrictions that exist on abortion are significant. “Abortions have been coming down, public
opinion has been moving in the direction of life, and there have been very real
laws put on the books, especially at the state level, that have reduced
abortion rates, including parental involvement, informed consent and banning
public funding. States that fund abortion see higher rates of abortion.”
McQuade’s outlook for a nation with
FOCA as law is grim: “It is a very dangerous bill. It is very destructive for
unborn children and for women. It is not currently up for a hearing or vote,
but certain members of Congress have pledged that they would move it very
quickly in January, given the opportunity to do so.”
How dangerous does McQuade find
Even people who say they are
pro-choice, she said, “should be nervous about this, “because anything that could
potentially slow down a woman’s access to so-called ‘reproductive services,’
like safety regulations at abortion clinics, could potentially be deemed
against the law as discriminatory against a fundamental right. Laws that
require only licensed doctors to perform abortions would also be in danger,
resulting in abortions being performed by nurses or midwives. This would put
women at risk.”
Bishop Finn says pro-lifers should
educate people now, and not hold out hope that the law will be overturned. “I’m
not a constitutional lawyer,” he said, “and I don’t want to give people the
hope that we could overturn FOCA, but instead, we should be very careful that
it is never put in place.”
Kumpel is based
in Valdosta, Georgia.