Activists Still Hoping to Promote Abortion at US Military Bases

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 18, 2010   |   2:08PM   |   Washington, DC

The fate of the legislation funding the Defense Department is still up in the air but abortion advocacy groups are asking their members to keep pressing to end the ban on abortions at military base hospitals.

Current law prohibits abortions at the taxpayer-funded base hospitals both in the United States and abroad, but NARAL president Nancy Keenan is hoping to change that.

In an email obtained, she asks her group’s members to lobby their senators to press for a vote on the funding bill containing the Burris amendment, which overturns the longstanding pro-life policy. Keenan is concerned her forces won’t have another chance to kill the policy in the next Congress.

“When the new Congress is sworn in, we’ll face at least 79 new anti-choice members in the House and 13 in the Senate,” she writes. “These numbers tell me one thing: we need to make important pro-choice gains for women now.”

“Our top priority is ending an abortion ban on women in the military,” she says. “I need your help today. Please ask your senators to end the ban on our servicewomen’s access to abortion services. We need to act fast. There are only a few weeks before this Congress adjourns and the new one, with 92 new anti-choice politicians, is sworn in.”

But the question of whether the abortion ban at military bases will stay in effect is more of a question of what Democrats can get through the Senate. The elections have resulted in a situation in the Senate whereby Democrats are seeing their power reduced even though they still have a huge majority before the next session of Congress begins.

The new fiscal year began October 1 but the Defense Department funding bill containing the pro-abortion amendment is languishing in the Senate. The bill stalled when Republicans filibustered the bill over the Democratic attempt to repeal a ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in uniform — the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Pro-life groups also urged a filibuster because of the abortion provision.

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.

A continuing resolution to keep the current funding in place expires on December 3.

If Democrats can’t find enough votes for the funding bill, the resolution will remain in place and the pro-life side will win the battle, for now. Abortion backers may press for overturning the military abortion ban next session but they will have fewer votes to pass it.

Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, a pro-life California Republican, told the Wall St. Journal he doesn’t think the funding bill will pass and that the resolution will stay in place.

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, an 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.

Sen Roger 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.”

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.