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License not to kill

Abortion | New spending measure hailed as "a monumental victory in the fight for life"

Issue: "Rice: Starboard at State," Dec. 4, 2004

In July 2002, an Alaska court forced a community hospital to provide elective late-term abortions-against the hospital's pro-life policy, and against the community's sentiments. This year, New Mexico officials denied a community hospital's lease because it refused to perform abortions. And in New Jersey, pro-abortion activists lobbied the state to force a Catholic health system to build an onsite abortion clinic.

All such government actions are now illegal-at least on Uncle Sam's dime.

On Nov. 20, Congress passed a $388 billion spending bill that includes a provision to block the measure's money from going to government agencies that force health professionals and institutions to perform, refer for, or pay for elective abortions. The provision, known as the "Hyde-Weldon Conscience Protection Amendment," is named after its Republican House sponsors Reps. Henry Hyde of Illinois, and Dave Weldon, a Florida physician.

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Family Research Council president Tony Perkins last week called the amendment's passage "a monumental victory in the fight for life. . . . Protecting the choice to not perform abortions is a huge win for right-to-life supporters and the pro-life medical community."

Forty-five states already protected the pro-life conscience rights of health professionals; existing federal law also protected those rights for "healthcare entities." But abortion activists had in court waged a war over words, arguing successfully that "healthcare entities" meant individuals, not institutions.

The Hyde-Weldon Amendment erases that linguistic loophole, and defines "healthcare entities" as a health professional, hospital, or any kind of healthcare facility, organization, or plan, including an insurance plan. The provision acknowledges that institutions with pro-life policies have them because of the convictions of pro-life individuals.

Some Democrats complained that the GOP had slipped the amendment into the omnibus spending bill without debate, and claimed the provision restricts access to abortion counseling, referral, and information. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Nov. 20 stood up in the House chamber and protested the amendment, calling it "an extraordinary sneak attack on women's rights," and "a domestic gag rule."

But Rep. Weldon responded that the provision applies only when a "healthcare entity" refuses to provide abortion services, and a government tries to force it to do so. "Therefore this provision will not affect access to abortion or the provision of abortion-related information by willing providers," Rep. Weldon said.

Many Democrats apparently agreed. The Hyde-Weldon Amendment passed with majorities of 344-51 in the House and 65-30 in the Senate. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told reporters she has been promised a vote during the next legislative session to try to strip the new language. But with an expanded GOP majority, a Senate reversal is unlikely. Meanwhile, House Democrats have already conceded that they likely won't be able to muster enough votes to repeal the amendment either.

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