National Catholic Register


Damage Control in Obama’s D.C.

BY Tom McFeely

January 25-31, 2009 Issue | Posted 1/16/09 at 10:06 AM


The new Democrat-dominated Congress was sworn in Jan. 9 in Washington. And, to assess what’s in store regarding human life issues in Washington’s new and more pro-abortion political landscape, the Register’s Tom McFeely spoke with Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.

Johnson’s overall assessment: Pro-lifers will be in a damage-control mode as they resist implementation of the pro-abortion agenda being pushed by Obama and the Democratic leadership of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

What is happening with respect to the Freedom of Choice Act in the new Congress?

Nothing is happening yet.

It’s really speculation as to what the different key lawmakers will decide to focus on first. But I’d say that the likelihood is high that the first big challenges will be on other fronts like the Hyde Amendment (which limits abortion), health-care reform and some of the things that are going to be attached to that — and some other things.

I don’t see any indications there is likely to be early action on the Freedom of Choice Act.

With respect to things like the Hyde Amendment and the Mexico City Policy, what do you expect on those fronts?

The Mexico City Policy is an executive order. There is no action by Congress required, and so we would expect, regrettably, that President Obama would issue a new executive order that would nullify that policy very quickly after he takes office.

So that’s going to happen. There’s some other things he can do unilaterally, like open the doors to federal funding of research that requires killing human embryos, and he’s likely to do that fairly quickly, as well.

But the things that we’re focusing our attention on are those where the Congress would have to take some action in order to accomplish the goals that he has enunciated in the past.

For example, on the Hyde Amendment, here we have a law that has reduced abortions. Both sides admit that it has greatly reduced the number of abortions; there are conservatively more than a million Americans alive today, probably two million, because of the Hyde Amendment. And yet it’s on the hit list for the new administration.

So that’s a big, big issue. And that’s one that basically they have to decide what they are going to do in the next couple of months, because it’s tied to the annual appropriations process. The Hyde Amendment is a provision of the annual appropriations bill. The burden is on our side every year, if you will, to renew it every year.

The last time it’s been under serious attack was way back [in 1993] when Clinton came in. But it does come up as part of the appropriations process, and so I think we’re going to be in a fight on that in fairly short order. I mean, this spring at the latest.

What should Catholics and other pro-lifers do to assist the pro-life effort in Congress?

They need to convey to their individual representatives, to their House member and their two senators, that we don’t want this Obama abortion agenda. We don’t want federal funding of abortion on demand with our tax dollars. We don’t want to be forced to pay for abortions with our health-care premiums.

We don’t want pro-life doctors and pro-life nurses and pro-life hospitals put at risk of lawsuits if they refuse to provide abortions. The Bush administration has put teeth into the federal conscience statutes with this new regulation that Obama’s administration has given signs that they’re going to attack as soon as they get into office. That’s another important issue, this whole issue of protection of pro-life health-care providers.

FOCA wraps all these things together, but I think we’re going to see in the immediate future a piecemeal attack. And we need members of Congress to be hearing from their constituents that they don’t agree with this abortion agenda, that these things should be left alone — the Hyde Amendment should be left alone, pro-life heath-care workers should be left alone, and so on.

That’s the message we’re encouraging people to convey, because Obama does need Congress’ agreement on most of these things. If they just say they are going to let sleeping dogs lie, the status quo at least is preserved.

Do you think the interventions of the U.S. bishops on these issues are having an influence on members of Congress?

I think they are. Anything on that scale will have an impact. You know, not on the real hard-core abortion element, but on the people who really decide these issues.

There aren’t enough hard-core pro-lifers for us to win on most of these things we are talking about right now. Right now in the U.S. Senate there are at least 58 or 59 votes in support of Roe v. Wade, but that includes a substantial number who also will vote against federal funding of abortion, who would vote in favor of conscience rights, who would vote for the Unborn Child rule and stuff like that.

So it’s very helpful with that middle group when they see that type of activity out there. It makes them less likely to just go along with the activist pro-abortion agenda that the pressure groups are going to be pushing with support, to some degree at least, of the administration.

They’re getting a lot of mail, a lot of phone calls on the issue. When they get back home, they’re having their town hall meetings and people actually should stand up and say, “I’m hoping you’re not going to support this thing I read about in the Catholic Standard.”

That has an impact. They go back to Washington; they have their meetings behind close doors, and they say, “Why are we doing this again? Let’s not do this. People are stirred up, let’s do something else.”

Now that’s not a formula for us moving the ball in the pro-life direction, but it’s probably what we’ve got right now. We’re in a defensive posture for sure with this new gang in town.

Tom McFeely is the Register’s contributing editor and resident blogger. Read More at