Senate Votes Soon on Defense Bill With Pro-Abortion Language

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 8, 2010   |   12:03PM   |   Washington, DC

The Senate may vote as early as Thursday on the 2011 defense authorization bill that contains language turning military base hospitals into abortion facilities.

The legislation contains the Burris amendment which would overturn longstanding pro-life law prohibiting the performance of abortions at taxpayer-funded military bases.

Earlier this year, a Senate committee approved the amendment sponsored by outgoing Sen. Rolland Burris, an Illinois Democrat. 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.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, according to a report in The Hill, plans to bring up the bill for a vote as early as today. His first effort to get 60 votes for cloture — to cut off debate and allow a vote on the bill — failed as Republicans filibustered the measure in part because of the Burris amendment but also because of the controversial “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law.

Without passage of the Defense Department funding bill, the increase in the number of pro-life and Republican votes in the Senate makes it all but certain that abortion activists will not be able to overturn the military hospital abortion ban.

Douglas Johnson, the legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, told his group remains opposed to the bill because of the Burris amendment.

“NRLC is opposed to invoking cloture on the motion to proceed, and reserves the right to score the roll call on that motion, because the bill contains the Burris Amendment, which would repeal the longstanding ban on the use of military medical facilities for elective abortions,” he said.

Johnson also urged pro-life advocates to place less focus on a potential amendment to remove the Burris language and more on defeating the bill itself since the amendment may not be allowed a vote and would not be approved if it received one.

“The focus of pro-life lobbying efforts should be to oppose cloture — not on any attempt to directly strike the Burris Amendment, which would not succeed in the current Senate,” he said.

The Susan B. Anthony List and Americans United for Life have also actively urged senators to oppose the bill because of the Burris amendment.

Sen. Carl Levin, a pro-abortion Michigan Democrat, told reporters on Tuesday he thinks there is a “good shot” of getting the 60 votes needed to move ahead to a vote on the bill.

In the last vote on cloture, 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 base 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.

Christian Medical Association 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. [related]

“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.