WASHINGTON-Just before the House of Representatives passed a $410 billion appropriations bill for 2009, a coalition of Democrats and Republicans sent a letter to the Democratic leadership calling for the continuation of myriad pro-life provisions that govern domestic spending.
"Let's not allow it to be political," said Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., one of the authors of the letter along with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. "This group can start to lead the way."
President Obama already repealed the "Mexico City Policy" soon after he took office, allowing federal funds to go toward international health clinics providing abortions. But for over 30 years, domestic spending bills, or appropriations, have included provisions that preclude the government from funding abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother. The Hyde Amendment, for one, was established in 1976 under a Democratic Congress.
Some of those provisions come and go, depending on who is president. The group of 180 lawmakers-157 Republicans and 23 Democrats-is pushing for the provisions to remain next year. One, the Kemp-Kasten amendment, has already been weakened in the current bill. The new language allows $50 million to go to the UN Population Fund, which pro-life members argue is complicit with forced abortions in countries like China.
House Democrats have more pro-lifers in their midst than in the last Congress, but Democratic leadership has not responded publicly to the coalition so far, or to the letter that was sent. Some lawmakers said that they believed the current appropriations legislation architects could have stripped out more pro-life provisions than they did, but for the pushback from pro-life Democrats.
The pro-life lawmakers hope that their preemptive lobbying will preserve key provisions in next year's spending bill. Shuler said he doesn't face any ire from Speaker Nancy Pelosi for his authorship of the letter.
"She has never asked me to waver on my stance," he said.
But Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who also signed the letter, said it's difficult for Democrats to endorse such an appeal.
"They're courageous people," he said.
"I'm here however long I'm here. I've been told to vote my district," said freshman Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, a Democrat from Pennsylvania who signed the letter. "I didn't come here to please the Democratic leadership."
The letter's writers asked Democratic leadership, if they do intend to remove the pro-life provisions next year, to allow a debate and vote on the matter, instead of deciding the issue behind closed doors. The writers hope that President Obama's desire to reduce abortions will be common ground for the discussion.