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Congress OKs pro-life, anti-discrimination abortion measure

WASHINGTON (BP)–Congress has approved a measure to protect pro-life doctors, hospitals and health care entities from government discrimination.

Both the House of Representatives and Senate passed the anti-discrimination amendment Nov. 20 as part of an omnibus spending bill. The House endorsed the $388 billion spending measure in a 344-51 vote, while the Senate later approved it in a 65-30 vote.

The White House supports the anti-discrimination legislation. President Bush will not receive the overall spending bill for his signature until the House approves a Senate change, which was unrelated to the pro-life amendment.

The pro-life measure would bar grants to federal agencies or state or local governments from discriminating against health-care providers and entities that refuse to “provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.” The legislation would protect doctors, other health-care professionals, hospitals, health maintenance organizations, health insurance plans and other health-care entities. The provision would be in effect only as long as the life of the spending bill, which covers the next fiscal year.

The measure survived despite the opposition of abortion rights advocates in the Senate. According to The Washington Post, Senate foes agreed not to seek to block the proposal after they were promised by Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee a vote soon on a measure seeking to repeal the legislation.

The threat to pro-life health-care providers is not theoretical, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Hospitals in Alaska, New Jersey and New Mexico that have pro-life policies already have been discriminated against, the USCCB reported. The new measure was needed because current federal law had been interpreted to protect only doctors and medical training programs, according to the USCCB.

The National Right to Life Committee applauded Congress’ action. NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson said the new law “will prevent state and local government officials from compelling health-care providers to participate in killing unborn children.”

The National Organization for Women attacked the measure.

“What we’re seeing here is our worst nightmare –- Congress trying to rob women of their access to full health care,” NOW President Kim Gandy said.

USCCB spokeswoman Cathy Cleaver Ruse said in a written statement, “The opposition of abortion activists to this amendment is telling. The champions of ‘choice’ worked to deny the choice of health-care providers to choose not to perform abortion. Here’s more evidence that ‘pro-choice’ really does mean ‘pro-abortion.’”

Reps. Henry Hyde, R.-Ill., and Dave Weldon, R.-Fla., sponsored the pro-life proposal.

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