Next Pro-Life Battle Centers on Abortions at Military Bases

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 23, 2010   |   11:52AM   |   Washington, DC

When members of the Senate return from their Thanksgiving break, the pro-life movement will immediately face a key legislative showdown over the issue of abortions at military bases.

The Senate will consider the legislation funding the Defense Department, which currently contains the Burris amendment, a measure that overturns the longstanding pro-life policy against abortions at taxpayer-funded military bases.

There is talk on Capitol Hill that Senate Democrats will put forward a new Defense Department funding bill without the amendment in order to secure more votes for its passage, but that possibility remains to be seen.

Current law prohibits abortions at the taxpayer-funded base hospitals both in the United States and abroad, but abortion advocates are rallying support for the  legislation to overturn it.

In an email today, Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser says pro-life advocates need to get involved now if they don’t want to see military base hospitals become abortion centers.

“Our newly-elected pro-life Members do not take office until January, which is why we must be extra vigilant during this “lame duck” session. The pro-abortion incumbents we defeated can still vote during this session and will be looking for ways to sneak pro-abortion language into any bills that are offered,” she explained.

“We are most concerned about the Department of Defense Authorization bill. A previous version of this bill, defeated earlier this year, contained the Burris Amendment which would allow for abortions on military bases both here at home and abroad,” Dannenfelser added. “Pro-abortion Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be working overtime during the “lame duck” session to pass this bill, and if the bill contains the Burris Amendment, we must make sure that it is defeated.”

“Take a few minutes to write your Senators and ask them to vote against any Department of Defense Authorization bill that contains the Burris Amendment which would allow for taxpayer-subsidized abortions on our military bases here at home and abroad,” she said.

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 and the Burris amendment.

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.

But Dannenfelser says in the email that pro-life advocates need to pull out all the stops now to ensure the measure doesn’t pass or is amended to remove the Burris amendment.

“Our military hospitals are meant to be places of healing, not destruction and death for unborn children,” she said. “Military doctors have already expressed that they do not want to perform abortions. Contact your Senators and ask them to vote against any Department of Defense Authorization bill that contains the pro-abortion Burris Amendment.”

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.

CMA Senior Vice President Gene Rudd, MD, who received the Gorgas Award for distinguished service in the American military, previously 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.