WASHINGTON — Even as several states move to restrict abortions, the federal government is increasing its support of elective abortions. The latest effort in that vein came from a Senate committee that voted to reverse a 15-year ban on elective abortions on military bases.
The mandate on the military to provide elective abortions on military bases worldwide — as long as the service member paid for it — was narrowly adopted by the Senate Armed Services Committee as part of the annual defense authorization bill. The panel adopted the amendment by 15-12 in a closed-door session in late May.
The vote was criticized for requiring the use of taxpayer-funded personnel and facilities for elective abortions.
“Regardless of their views on whether abortion is ever justified, the vast majority of Americans agree that taxpayer dollars should not subsidize such controversial procedures,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., in a written statement. “Unfortunately, if the provisions of the defense authorization bill are allowed to stand, military treatment facilities will become abortion clinics built and operated at taxpayer expense.”
Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said pro-life advocates, who plan to fight the measure as it moves through Congress this summer see it as a significant expansion by the federal government into abortion.
“If they succeed, military hospitals all over the world will become abortion facilities,” Johnson said. “We don’t think the federal government ought to be in the business of running abortion mills.”
The new measure would reverse a 1995 federal law that Republicans enacted when they took control of Congress. That ban on elective abortions at military bases reversed an executive order by President Bill Clinton to allow the practice.
The proposed expansion in federal support of elective abortion follows on the heels of a controversial decision by some pro-life Democrats to support the massive health-care overhaul enacted in the spring, despite the refusal of Democratic leaders to include a strong ban on the use of federal taxpayer funds for elective abortions. The defense-related abortion measure is viewed by prolife advocates as continuing the proabortion policies advocated by Democratic congressional leaders.
“This [amendment] is another example of the congressional leadership relentlessly pushing an expansion of abortion,” Johnson said.
The Senate committee’s vote came as several states moved to tighten elective abortion regulations, including the approval of bills in Florida and Louisiana to require ultrasounds before an abortion is allowed.
The fate of the Florida bill is uncertain, as Gov. Charlie Christ, an Independent, may veto it to appeal to liberal voters in his Senate bid after he left the Republican Party.
Conversely, the U.S. military has expanded its abortion and birth-control efforts over the last year. For instance, in February, the military began requiring all of its hospitals to stock “emergency contraceptives” such as Plan B, an abortifacient.
The Senate panel vote would greatly expand that role to include elective abortions unrelated to situations where the life of the mother is endangered, which is the only current situation where abortion is allowed on military bases.
The May 27 Senate committee vote followed several previous attempts in recent years to reverse the elective abortion ban at military facilities. But the latest effort is the first attempt during President Obama’s administration, who even some Democrats describe as “a very pro-abortion president.”
The Senate panel’s abortion addition to the massive defense spending bill did not get much attention at the time because the legislation already contains several other high-profile and contentious elements, including a repeal of the law banning homosexuals from serving openly in the military.
Instrumental in the committee’s three-vote margin to roll back the elective abortion ban was the support of four Democratic senators who are Catholic: Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark Begich of Alaska, Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Ted Kaufman of Delaware.
McCaskill, whose office did not respond to a request for comment, appears to be a particularly favored ally of abortion advocates. Her leading donor in the current election cycle — by far — is Emily’s List, which exclusively funds pro-abortion Democratic women. The pro-abortion organization contributed $523,538 to McCaskill in the 2010 election cycle, which was the vast majority of the $808,299 she raised in that period, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Additionally, McCaskill has a 100% “PRO” rating from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, an abortion- advocacy group.
“I’m not sure what she says on the campaign trail, but we’ve always regarded her as strongly pro-abort,” said Johnson of National Right to Life.
Another Catholic on the committee who supported the elective abortion measure and also benefitted from pro-abortion campaign support is Begich, who netted $10,000 from NARAL Pro-Choice America in the current campaign cycle. Begich did not release a statement on his vote, but he was described as “a longtime pro-choice supporter” by Julie Hasquet, his press secretary.
“He doesn’t believe that [abortion] is something that government should get involved in,” Hasquet said.
When asked whether Begich’s vote to require military physicians or those hired by the military to perform elective abortions increased government involvement in abortion, Hasquet requested further questions be submitted in writing, to which she did not respond.
The final Senate vote on the overall defense bill is expected before Congress’ August recess. If it is passed with the elective abortion provision included, pro-life advocates expect it will be opposed by Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Laura Battles, press secretary for the committee, declined to predict what actions Skelton would take, but noted that “throughout Mr. Skelton’s career he has always been pro-life.”
Rich Daly writes from Washington.