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House approves funds for D.C. abortions

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly approved a bill July 16 that will restore government funding for abortions in the District of Columbia.

The House voted 219-208 for the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, H.R. 3170, after once again preventing pro-life members from offering an amendment that would have kept in place a ban on federal and local funds from being used to pay for abortions in the district. That provision, known as the Dornan Amendment, has been in effect since 1996.

The House-approved version of the spending bill also would eliminate a ban on government funds for domestic partnership benefits for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples in D.C., as well as a prohibition on the use of public money for an initiative to legalize marijuana in the district.

Southern Baptist public policy specialist Barrett Duke called the vote “extremely troubling.”

“Many of us fought especially hard to prevent the abortion funding and we almost won, but in the end the pro-abortion House leadership twisted enough arms to squeak out a win,” said Duke, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s vice president for public policy and research. “The District of Columbia already has one of the highest abortion rates in the nation. Last night’s vote guarantees that the rate is going to increase, and taxpayers will be paying for that increase.”

Various studies have shown limitations on government funding of abortion produce a decline in the number of abortions. In June, the Guttmacher Institute, which is identified with the abortion rights movement, reported its review of literature on the subject showed about 25 percent of the women who would have had Medicaid-funded abortions chose instead to have their babies when they were barred from using public money.

The House vote came less than a week after President Obama told Pope Benedict at the Vatican he was committed to reducing abortions in the United States. Obama’s proposed budget, however, did not include the ban on abortion funds for the District of Columbia.

“President Obama’s decision to force American taxpayers to foot the bill for abortions in the District of Columbia will cause the deaths of at least 1,000 more unborn children each year,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said in a written statement.

Abortion rights organizations applauded the House vote. “We are pleased that the House has removed this discriminatory policy, which has for far too long interfered with D.C. women’s ability to access safe, legal abortion care,” Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, said in a written release.

Pro-life representatives from both political parties attempted to amend the measure to restore the Dornan Amendment but were unsuccessful at every turn. On July 7, the House Appropriations Committee voted 33-26 to defeat such an amendment proposed by Reps. Lincoln Davis, D.-Tenn., and Todd Tiahrt, R.-Kan. The House Rules Committee rejected an effort by Davis and Tiahrt to have their amendment considered on the floor.

Finally, before a vote on final passage July 16, an effort was made to overturn the Rules Committee’s decision and gain votes on amendments regarding abortion funding and other social issues. The House defeated that effort 216-213. Victory for the House leadership was achieved when four Democrats switched their votes at the last minute, Dannenfelser said

On the roll call for final passage of the spending bill, 38 Democrats joined with 170 Republicans in opposition.

The House-approved bill maintains the ban on federal funding of abortions in D.C., permitting only local money to be used. Pro-lifers say, however, the ban is meaningless because federal and local funds are combined for the district, and the D.C. government can specify as local the money used to underwrite abortions.

In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee voted 15-13 July 9 against an amendment by Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., that would have restored the ban on abortion funding for D.C.
Tom Strode is Baptist Press Washington bureau chief. See tandem report in today’s Baptist Press (http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=30912) on the House-approved version of the spending bill also eliminating a prohibition on the use of public money for an initiative to legalize marijuana in the District of Columbia.