Legislation Protecting Pro-Life Hospitals May Wait Til 2004

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 26, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Legislation Protecting Pro-Life Hospitals May Wait Til 2004

by Valerie Thompson
LifeNews.com Satff Writer
September 26, 2003

Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — A bill that would protect hospitals and other health providers from being forced to perform abortions faces slow going in the U.S. Senate and will probably not be debated until the 2004 election season.

The bill, S. 1397, would clarify an existing pro-life federal law, passed in 1996, by explicitly protecting the full range of health care entities, including hospitals and individual health care providers, from being required to perform abortions. The law has been interpreted by some courts as only covering medical residents in training.

A private non-sectarian hospital outside Anchorage is already performing abortions against its stated philosophy—under order of the Alaska Supreme Court which ruled in 1997 that abortion was a fundamental Alaskan right, throwing out a state conscience clause.

Pro-life advocates cite a number of instances of health care entities being muscled out of mergers or state contracts, or being forced to operate in contradiction to their pro-life principles.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and NARAL Pro-Choice America oppose the bill, saying a woman’s "right" to abortion trumps a provider’s objections of conscience.

"The bill will face an uphill fight in the Senate, due to vehement opposition of pro-abortion groups such as NARAL and Planned Parenthood," said National Right to Life Committee legislative director Douglas Johnson. "Many senators will follow these groups to any extreme — including the Democratic senators who are running for president."

Republican could be saving the bill for the 2004 election season, since President George W. Bush has promised to sign the bill, if it passes the Senate, said David DiMartino, communications director to Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE). Nelson, a pro-life Democrat, is a main sponsor of the act with pro-life Sen. Judd Gregg.

"The President wouldn’t mind having a debate on it during an election year," DiMartino said Thursday.

With Congress expected to adjourn by the end of October, and critical budget and appropriations bills outstanding, it is unlikely the issue will arise until next year, DiMartino said.

The House of Representatives passed the bill 229 to 189 in 2002.

LifeNews.com was not able to reach staff for Sen. Gregg this week. Gregg, whose father just died, was out of town. He chairs the committee which will hold hearings on the bill and none have been scheduled since the bill was referred to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on July 14th.

Pro-life groups say part of the opposition to the bill is pro-abortion groups’ worry that the number of abortion practitioners is on the decline

"The abortion lobby is adamantly opposed to this legislation because their greatest long-range fear is that no one will want to commit abortions. Even recognizing the right of health care facilities to refrain from abortion raises the specter for them of a shut-down of the industry," says Michael Schwartz, a spokesman for Concerned Women for America, a pro-life women’s organization.

Eighty-six percent of U.S. hospitals do not offer abortion, according to recent figures.

"As long ago as 1998, at a Capitol Hill briefing, Gloria Feldt, then president of Planned Parenthood, identified ‘conscience clause’ legislation as her organization’s number one legislative target," said Schwartz.

In addition to a string of pro-life groups, the Catholic bishops’ conference backs the bill because the church’s ability to operate hospitals could be severely compromised or destroyed by laws requiring hospitals to perform abortion.

Gail Quinn, executive director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, calls the proposed legislation "a modest bill that protects health care providers who choose not to get involved in the destruction of innocent life."