Senator Places Hold on Obama Military Nominee Over Abortions at Base Hospitals

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 23, 2010   |   5:52PM   |   Washington, DC

Sen. Roger Wicker, a pro-life Mississippi Republican, has placed a senatorial hold on President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Pentagon’s top health policy position over a debate on abortion.

Wicker placed the hold on Obama’s nomination of Jonathan Woodson because the current military funding bill the Senate is considering contains an amendment that would overturn the longstanding policy prohibiting abortions at taxpayer-funded military base hospitals.

Democrats are expected to push a bill in the Senate after the elections that would authorize the abortions after pro-abortion Sen. Roland Burris, an Illinois Democrat, won committee approval for an amendment overturning the policy.

The aggressive lame duck session is expected because Democrats will likely lose a large number of votes in both the House and Senate — or potentially control of one chamber or both — on Election Day to pro-life Republican candidates.

Knowing that and opposing the Burris amendment, Wicker placed a hold on the nomination of Woodson, a vascular surgeon and Army Reserve brigadier general, to be the assistant Secretary of Defense for health affairs.

If confirmed, Woodson would head the Military Health System — the global medical network under the Pentagon. He would be responsible for programs involving thousands of people, with a budget that tops $30 billion.

CQ interviewed an Obama administration official who said he has met with Wicker to discuss the hold and his concerns about the Burris amendment and explained Wicker “said he was willing to engage with us,” but the two did not reach an agreement.

The House passed its version of the defense spending bill (HR 5136) in May but did not include language comparable to the pro-abortion Burris provision.

In the Senate, pro-life Sen. Jim DeMint, a pro-life South Carolina Republican, warned last month that he would block all legislation that has not been agreed to by both parties.

The block essentially means that DeMint will filibuster any legislation he doesn’t support — requiring Democrats to obtain 60 votes to clear the bill and its pro-abortion provision.

That would likely kill the legislation, because Democrats were unable to get the 60 votes for the bill on a first vote.

Democrats voted almost unanimously, 56-43, to allow debate on the bill and Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who maintains he is pro-life, joined them. Republicans unanimously voted in opposition to ending the filibuster, including pro-abortion members who wanted the chance to offer amendments to the bill.

Current law in effect since 1996 prohibits the performance of abortion by Department of Defense medical personnel or at DOD medical facilities. A separate provision prohibits the use of DOD funds for abortion except to save the life of the mother.

Abortion advocates have tried for years to force military bases hospitals to do abortions on female service members. In 2006, the House rejected by a vote of 237-191 amendment similar to the Burris amendment.

The Burris amendment is more expansive than a 2006 effort because it allows abortion on both domestic and overseas military base hospitals.

Wicker led the fight in the committee against the amendment and planned an amendment of his own on the Senate floor to strike the language. However, pro-life groups urged a filibuster against the bill because pro-abortion Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid would not allow Wicker’s amendment to be considered.

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 15-12 for the amendment with all Republicans and Nelson voting against it and all other Democrats voting for it.

Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, told he was pleased by the vote that stopped the bill from advancing in the Senate.

“This is a victory for the men and women who serve our nation in uniform. At least for now they will not be used to advance a radical social agenda,” he said. “We applaud Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator John McCain and Senator Jim Inhofe for their successful efforts to stop this legislation which would … turn our military hospitals into abortion clinics.”

In August, more than 200 physicians who have served U.S. soldiers signed a letter to members of the Senate protesting the Burris amendment. The 16,000-member Christian Medical Association organized the letter and urged lawmakers to vote no on the National Defense Authorization Act unless the Burris amendment is removed.

CMA Senior Vice President Gene Rudd, MD, who received the Gorgas Award for distinguished service in the American military, told that allowing abortions on military bases is inappropriate.

“If enacted, requiring military physicians to perform abortions threatens military readiness. Morale will suffer among those already serving. Morale is a key component of military effectiveness,” he said. “Furthermore, just as we have seen a marked decrease in young doctors entering OB/Gyn training for fear of being forced to do abortion, this requirement will discourage young doctors from joining the military.”

The issue of abortions done at military base medical centers has been around for two decades.

When ex-President Clinton allowed abortions in military facilities from 1993 to 1996, all military physicians (as well as many nurses and supporting personnel) refused to perform or assist in elective abortions. In response, the Clinton administration attempted to hire civilians to do abortions.