WASHINGTON — According to the victors in this year’s elections, America voted for change.

But there’s one change that many Americans are not ready to embrace.

Over a year ago, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama promised Planned Parenthood that the first thing he would do as president would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), legislation that would eliminate nearly every state and federal abortion restriction put in place over the past 36 years.

The U.S. bishops denounced FOCA at their November meeting.

Women who have had abortions denounce it, too.

“It’s ludicrous … it horrifies me,” said Susan Swander, an insurance agent in Waldport, Ore., who has had several abortions. “They claim to be protecting women. I don’t understand the logic of it.”

Swander understands how abortion hurts both the unborn and women. Two of her three abortions took place at a time when there were no restrictions in place. She described how that choice led to “36 years of denial, shame, guilt, pain, sadness and anger.”

Now that Obama is president-elect and looking forward to strong Democratic majorities in Congress, pro-lifers are moving swiftly to oppose the legislation that could enshrine abortion as a right.

“We’re going to fight this very hard,” said Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for policy and communications with the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “It’s extreme, and it’s a very real threat to all the pro-life gains made over the past 36 years.”

Cardinal Francis George, president of the conference, said FOCA would:

• “deprive the American people in all 50 states of the freedom they now have to enact modest restraints and regulations on the abortion industry.”

• “coerce all Americans into subsidizing and promoting abortion with their tax dollars.”

• “threaten Catholic health-care institutions and Catholic Charities.”

• “be an evil law that would further divide our country.”

San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer told reporters in Baltimore that it would be a mistake to interpret President-elect Obama’s victory as a popular vote for FOCA.

“If you look at exit polls on Election Day, you will not find very many people who came out of the polling place and said their vote for either candidate was based on FOCA,” said Archbishop Niederauer.

“We want to do all that we can to reduce the number of abortions,” Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley told The Boston Globe. “Now they’re talking about pushing this FOCA, which doesn’t sound to me like it’s going to try and reduce abortions, but simply make them much more accessible to people, and pay for them at home and abroad.”

FOCA’s History

FOCA isn’t new. It was first introduced in 1993 and more actively pursued during pro-abortion administrations such as President Clinton’s. Under President George W. Bush, the legislation had the threat of a veto, even if it could make it to his desk.

The legislation was reintroduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D.-Calif., last year, one day after the Supreme Court upheld the federal ban on partial-birth abortion.

“The reintroduction of the bill was timed so that they could say, ‘even the Supreme Court is eroding our so-called reproductive rights,’” said McQuade. “That was their intent.

“The language of the bill has evolved,” added McQuade. “This is so extreme that most pro-abortion people wouldn’t accept it if they understood what it does.”

If enacted, FOCA would invalidate any federal, state or local government law, regulation, policy or action that would “deny or interfere with” a woman’s access to abortion prior to “viability,” or which would “discriminate against the exercise of” this right in the regulation or provision of any “benefits, facilities, services or information.”

That means that FOCA would invalidate many laws that have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court under Roe v. Wade, including laws restricting government funding of abortion, limits on abortion in public or military facilities, full-disclosure counseling requirements and bans on partial-birth abortion. 

It would also invalidate all laws requiring parental or judicial notification or consent for abortions performed on minors, laws that permit health-care providers to opt out of participation in abortion on conscience grounds, laws prohibiting non-physicians from performing abortions, and waiting periods. 

“FOCA would define abortion as a fundamental right, and therefore, render illegal any discrimination against the practice of that right,” said McQuade.

What Can Be Done?

The U.S. bishops’ conference and pro-life advocates aren’t waiting to see what January brings.

The bishops’ conference has developed ads that individuals and parishes can use in diocesan newspapers as flyers and as bulletin inserts to educate people about the legislation. McQuade said that during the conference’s Baltimore meeting Nov. 10-12, the U.S. bishops expanded their priority to uphold the life and dignity of the human person.

Other organizations are busy trying to rally opposition to the legislation, as well.

National Right to Life and the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment have issued action alerts encouraging individuals to call or write their congressional leaders, asking them to oppose the legislation.

The Chicago-based national pro-life organization Americans United for Life is asking those concerned to sign its “Fight FOCA” petition, which it will deliver to members of Congress. To date, more than 60,000 individuals have signed the petition.

“The first time the legislation was considered, some thought it was too extreme,” said McQuade. “Many backed away from it, and it created division among pro-abortion members of Congress. Our hope is that even pro-abortion elected officials will see it as something they don’t want to put their name on and that it won’t even make it to the president’s desk.”

Tim Drake is based in

St. Joseph, Minnesota.