Pro-life cause sees advances in Congressional debate on abortion

By Kevin J. Jones

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Reps. Mike Pence and Chris Smith

Key pro-life measures advanced in the U.S. House of Representatives this week. One committee approved a bill that would ensure health care legislation does not provide funding for abortions, while the House passed a bill that would pull Title X funding for Planned Parenthood.

The Pro-Life Activities secretariat of the U.S. bishops’ conference welcomed the Feb. 15 approval of the Protect Life Act in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“The committee’s action is an important step toward authentic health care reform that respects the dignity of all, from conception onward,” commented Deirdre McQuade, pro-life spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops’ conference.

She urged all representatives to support the proposal and to oppose all amendments which weaken it. The proposal, which must face a vote before the full House, also bars subsidies for health care plans that cover abortion.

In a Feb. 18 vote before the full House, Rep. Mike Pence’s (R-Ind.) proposed amendment to end Title X funding for Planned Parenthood passed by a margin of 240 to 185.

“This afternoon's vote is a victory for taxpayers and a victory for life,” Pence said. By banning the funding, Congress has “taken a stand for millions of Americans who believe their tax dollars should not be used to subsidize the largest abortion provider in America.”

The Title X program, founded in 1970, dedicates $327 million to fund family planning and contraception, the Washington Post reports. The funds are already prohibited from being used for abortion services, but pro-life advocates say the funding amounts to a subsidy for Planned Parenthood and its other activities.

In a House floor speech on the evening of Feb. 17, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) took the abortion funding debate in a personal direction. She announced that she had “a procedure at 17 weeks pregnant” with a child who had “moved from the vagina into the cervix.”

“I lost the baby,” she continued, according to the politics newspaper The Hill. She criticized abortion opponent Rep. Chris Smith’s (R-N.J.) discussion of an abortion procedure, which she thought suggested abortion is “either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought.”

Although she is reported to be Catholic, Speier has a 100 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America, which makes her one of the most consistent supporters of abortion in Congress.

The debate over Planned Parenthood funding has continued to draw energy from the recent Live Action videos. These recorded some of the abortion provider’s clinic staffers advising an undercover investigator posing as a pimp how to secure abortions and medical treatment for underage prostitutes.

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Florida), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, spoke at a Feb. 10 conference with Live Action president Lila Rose. He demanded that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius explain “what she is doing about these videos.”

Planned Parenthood has characterized the budget provisions as “the most dangerous legislative assault in our history.” It is trying to rally supporters to sign an open letter to every representative who voted for the law and to every senator who “still has a chance to stop it.” 

On Feb. 17, Rep. Smith also spoke in favor of a budget bill provision which would prevent taxpayer dollars going to support the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). He charged that the fund has “vigorously supported” and promoted the Chinese government’s “massive crimes against humanity” committed because of its coercive one-child policy.

Another section of the budget bill would restore the ban on government funding of abortion in the District of Columbia.

In December 2009 the Senate passed a bill which allowed “local” funds to cover abortions in the District. At the time Cardinal Justin Rigali criticized the move as “a bookkeeping exercise” because Congress controls all the District’s public funds.

The proposed House budget legislation would also restore the Mexico City Policy, which bars federal taxpayer funds from going to groups that promote or perform abortions in other nations. President Barack Obama overturned the policy soon after taking office.

The budget bill could pass as early as Feb. 18, but President Obama’s budget office has threatened that he will veto the legislation. Other amendments could also weaken its present pro-life provisions.

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