Press Worldstream (U.S.), January
US abortion debate altered by Obama presidency
NEW YORK -- The advent of the Obama administration
is rousing enthusiasm among abortion-rights supporters and deep anxiety among
Abortion-rights groups view President Barack Obama and the Democratic
leadership in Congress as allies who are likely to ease restrictions on federal
funding, broaden family-planning programs, and install federal judges who support
the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion.
anniversary of the abortion ruling, known as Roe v. Wade, was Thursday.
activists fear political setbacks and are urging the Republican minority in the
Senate to use delaying tactics if needed.
"The alignment of a hard-core
pro-abortion president with pro-abortion Democratic majorities in Congress means
that many existing pro-life policies are now in great jeopardy," Douglas
Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee wrote in a memo this month. The
term "pro-life" means opposing or restricting abortion.
damage is inevitable," Johnson added. "But the extent to which the Obama
abortion agenda will be achieved will depend on the perception of elected policy-makers
as to how the public is responding to the proposed changes."
can take some steps without Congress. Abortion-rights supporters hope he will
quickly repeal the so-called "global gag rule," which bans overseas
family planning groups that receive U.S. funds from providing any abortion-related
services or information.
"He could move right away," said Nancy
Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group. "It
would make a big, big difference in the lives of poor women abroad."
president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Francis George,
wrote Obama last week urging him to keep the funding ban, arguing that "a
shift toward promoting abortion in developing nations would also increase distrust
of the United States."
In the U.S., abortion-rights groups are backing
what they call a "common-ground, commonsense" agenda in Congress aimed
at reducing the number of unintended pregnancies. The Prevention First Act, already
endorsed by Obama, would increase federal funding for family planning, promote
comprehensive sex education, and expand women's access to contraceptives.
proposals, supported by moderates and conservatives, would provide incentives
for pregnant women to carry their fetuses to term. But there would likely be bitter
debate, largely along partisan lines, if Democrats try to repeal the 33-year-old
Hyde Amendment and other laws that ban federal funding for abortions under almost
Abortion-rights activists would like these bans lifted
so that poor women could access abortion through Medicaid and servicewomen could
get abortions through military health programs. Conservatives have mounted a petition
drive aimed at pressuring House Appropriations Chairman David Obey to preserve
Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democratic lead sponsor of the Prevention
First Act, says she opposes the Hyde Amendment but would not make it a priority
to repeal it this year.
"Our efforts should be focused on finding
common ground to prevent unwanted pregnancies so you won't have to worry about
abortions in the first place," she said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
While on the defensive in Washington, anti-abortion groups are on the attack
against the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which provides family-planning
and reproductive-health services including abortions at its nationwide network
Planned Parenthood receives extensive public funding for its
non-abortion services, and anti-abortion activists contend this amounts to an
indirect subsidy of abortion that should be halted, especially during an economic
Last fall, several anti-abortion groups formed a coalition to hinder
the opening of new Planned Parenthood clinics and reduce the funding it receives
from corporate and government sources.
The economic crisis and the Bernard
Madoff investment scandal already have affected donations to Planned Parenthood,
which recently laid off some employees. Its president, Cecile Richards, wouldn't
specify the number of layoffs, but expressed confidence that her organization
would thrive under Obama.
"We're excited to have a president who understands
and supports women's health needs," she said.
Several of Obama's high-level
appointments reflect his ties to the abortion-rights movement.
House communications director, Ellen Moran, was executive director of EMILY's
List which raises funds for female Democratic candidates who support abortion
rights. Domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes served on the board of EMILY's List,
and Dawn Johnsen, appointed as assistant attorney general for the office of legal
counsel, was once an abortion-rights lawyer for NARAL.
Across the country,
rallies, vigils and other events were planned Thursday to mark the Roe v. Wade
anniversary. Activities in Washington include the annual March for Life, an anti-abortion
service at the new U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, a "Blogs for Life" conference
featuring Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, and a vigil outside the Supreme Court
building in support of abortion rights, organized by the National Organization
But this year, March for Life participants won't be hearing
a presidential message of support from George W. Bush. Bush remained popular among
anti-abortion activists, who felt their views were reflected in his appointments
to the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal judgeships.
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