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BUDGET DEAL: good & bad for pro-lifers

WASHINGTON (BP)–Pro-life leaders applauded one roll-back of abortion funding in the federal budget agreement reached April 8 but expressed disappointment in the failure to include another such prohibition.

In the compromise, congressional leaders and President Obama agreed to a budget for the remainder of the federal fiscal year that restores a ban on funds for elective abortions in the District of Columbia but maintains grants for the country’s leading abortion provider, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). The measure, which is operative through September, will cut about $38 million from last year’s spending level.

The Senate, however, reportedly is committed under the arrangement to holding votes on defunding Planned Parenthood and on withdrawing money for implementation of last year’s health care reform law. The Democrat-controlled Senate is expected to defeat both proposals.

The budget deal provided a victory on another issue promoted by most social conservatives — school choice. The measure restores funds for vouchers that can be used by families in the District of Columbia at religious and other private schools.

“Like millions of other pro-lifers, I am disappointed that Planned Parenthood was not defunded, but this was a good day for the children of Washington, D.C., both unborn and born,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Unborn children are more likely to make it to birth because this budget deal ends federal funding for abortions in D.C. And after they’re born, they now have a better chance of escaping the egregious, non-performing D.C. public schools” in favor of schools “where they can learn to read, write and count.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, commended House pro-life leaders for achieving the ban on abortion funding in D.C. It will save the lives of about 1,000 babies a year, she said.

“While we are extremely disappointed that Planned Parenthood will continue to receive federal funding, the debate has dealt them a significant blow,” she said in a written statement. “Planned Parenthood has been exposed as a billion-dollar business centered [on] abortion, a habitual and unapologetic ally of those who wish to exploit young girls. Their pro-woman image has been shattered.

“Pro-life America isn’t done yet,” Dannenfelser said. “We will not rest until Planned Parenthood is defunded.”

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of the conservative National Review Online, praised the work of Speaker of the House John Boehner, saying, “[W]hen in our contemporary history has a Speaker of the House made the sanctity of human life such a priority as this one has? … This has been a milestone Congress thus far for those who care about” such issues.

The Democrats rescinded the funding ban on D.C. abortions — known as the Dornan Amendment — after taking over both Congress and the White House in 2009. They also acted to prevent new families from entering the voucher program, while permitting those already enrolled to continue to graduation.

The battle over funding Planned Parenthood, which Obama and congressional Democrats reportedly were unwilling to budge on, likely will be resumed in what is expected to be a dramatic fight over the 2012 budget. Although federal funds do not go directly to abortions, pro-life advocates contend federal money frees up other contributions to Planned Parenthood for the promotion and performance of abortions.

“I think, in reality, Speaker Boehner got about all he could realistically expect to get in this go-around,” Land said, “but this is just the first skirmish in what will be a long war over trillions, not billions, in the budget process. This was Manassas or Bull Run. Shiloh, Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg are yet to come.”

PPFA and its affiliates received $363.2 million in government grants and contracts during the 2008-09 fiscal year, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Some of that total came from state and local governments.

Planned Parenthood — which recently issued new rules requiring at least one clinic per affiliate to perform abortions — recorded more than 332,000 abortions at its clinics in 2009.

This year’s fight followed undercover investigations in recent years by the pro-life organization Live Action that have shown Planned Parenthood employees demonstrating a willingness to assist sex traffickers of minor girls, to cover up sexual abuse of underage females and to receive donations designated for abortions of African-American babies. Another clandestine effort showed clinic personnel providing erroneous information about fetal development.

From 1996 to 2009, the Dornan Amendment barred federal and congressionally approved local funds for the District of Columbia from paying for elective abortions. Congress approved, and President Obama signed into law, in December 2009 an omnibus spending bill with language that said federal funding of abortions in D.C. is prohibited but local money may be used for the procedures.

Pro-lifers, however, pointed out such language is meaningless in its effect because federal and local funds are combined for the district. As a result, the D.C. government can specify as local the money used to underwrite abortions.

Under the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, federal money is provided for scholarships of as much as $7,500 to be used by low-income families at D.C. private schools.

The April 8 budget deal called for approval of a short-term resolution to keep the federal government from a partial shutdown later that evening. Approval of the temporary measure is supposed to provide time for the Senate and House to pass the long-term resolution this week.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.