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Bipartisan letter backs pro-life ‘riders’


WASHINGTON (BP)–A bipartisan group of 180 House representatives sent a letter to Democratic leaders Wednesday requesting the renewal of so-called congressional “riders” that prevent taxpayer funding of abortion and embryo experimentation.

The riders — some of which have been in place for more than three decades — are attached to spending bills in committees and become part of the overall bill that is debated on the House floor. The fear is not only that the riders will be removed in committee, but that once they are, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrat leaders won’t allow debate on the individual riders on the floor.

The Hyde Amendment is at the heart of the controversy and its possible death is the greatest immediate threat to the pro-life movement. Enacted in 1976, it prohibits Medicaid and other federal funds from paying for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life. It has been renewed in every Congress — Democrat- and Republican-controlled — since it was passed a mere three years after Roe v. Wade was handed down.

The bipartisan letter — signed by 157 Republicans and 23 Democrats — asks that the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life legislation be renewed. According to the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, another rider that is awaiting renewal is the Kemp-Kasten Amendment that “allows the president to discontinue funding organizations like the United Nations Population Fund that support or manage coercive abortion policies, such as China’s one-child policy.”

The letter was initiated by Democratic Reps. Heath Shuler (N.C.) and Bart Stupak (Mich.) and Republican Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Christopher H. Smith (N.J.).

“We believe that failure to include all of the current policies with regard to the right to life will mark a radical departure from a policy a majority of Americans support,” the letter states. “… If this Congress intends to rescind these riders, at a minimum the American people deserve a full debate with an up-or-down vote.”

Following is the complete text of the letter, which was sent to Pelosi, Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey and Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter:

“We write to you today about critical pro-life policies that may become contentious in the upcoming appropriations process. As you know, for many years pro-life measures have been added to the various appropriations bills to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to promote or perform abortion, protect the consciences of health care professionals, and prevent funding for unethical human embryo experiments. Often referred to as pro-life riders, each year these provisions are included in legislation reported out of Appropriations subcommittees.

“Some of these measures have been in place for over thirty years. The Hyde Amendment, for example, has been in effect since 1976. Enacted under a Democratic Congress, the Hyde Amendment has been renewed by administrations and congresses regardless of party control. Members of both parties have expressed strong support for these measures, which reflect the moral concerns of many Americans who do not wish to see their tax dollars used for any organization that provides abortion services.

“We respectfully request that the pro-life riders be included in any legislation reported out of the Appropriations Committee. We believe that failure to include all of the current policies with regard to the right to life will mark a radical departure from a policy a majority of Americans support. If you choose to take such action, then we ask that the Rules Committee report a rule that allows for consideration of any deleted riders on the floor of House of Representatives. The magnitude of this issue and the history associated with it require no less. If this Congress intends to rescind these riders, at a minimum the American people deserve a full debate with an up-or-down vote. Thank you for your time and consideration of our request.”
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Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. The letter, complete with a list of those who signed it, can be found online at http://focusfamaction.edgeboss.net/download/focusfamaction/pdfs/2009-02-25_jordan_shuler_letter.pdf.

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  • Michael Foust