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Congress Passes "Back-Door" Abortion Gag Rule

An anti-abortion provision with potentially widespread impact will remain intact as part of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Bill for 2005, in spite of efforts by pro-choice Senators to block the measure. President Bush is expected to sign the omnibus spending bill.

On Friday, nine female Senators, including Olympia Snowe (R-ME), sent a letter to chair of the Appropriations Committee Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), requesting that the language of the clause be changed and protesting the fact that the Federal Refusal Clause had not been discussed in committee, nor had it been put to a vote on the Senate floor. According to the women Senators, the clause, sponsored by Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL), would “allow a broad range of health-care companies refuse to comply with federal, state, and local laws and regulations pertaining to abortion services. Should this provision become law, federal, state, or local governments may no longer require any institutional or individual health-care provider to provide, pay for, or refer abortion services. This will mean that medical providers in hospitals and clinics across the country will likely be victims of demonstrations and intimidation as this provisions allows that they be forbidden from providing abortion care to women who need it, and also to deny women referrals to another provider.”

Moreover, according to the women Senators, the provision “will interfere with the authority of Attorneys General to reject, approve, or impose terms on the sale or transfer of asset by nonprofit health entities as under current law. For example, an attorney General could no longer reject a merger proposal on the grounds that the result would be diminished community access to full reproductive health services.”

After threats by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), one of the signatories to the letter, to use procedural motions to delay the vote on the bill, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) guaranteed that he would hold a separate vote on the provision in the Senate next spring.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told the Los Angeles Times that the Federal Refusal Clause is “an extraordinary sneak attack on women’s rights,” maintaining that “federal dollars should not be used to deny the federally protected right to choose.”

In response to the addition of the Federal Refusal Clause, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) told the New York Times that he plans on forcing a vote next year to show support for Roe v Wade. “I think it is time the women of American understand what is happening here,” Harkin said.

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Media Resources: Letter from Women Senators 11/19/04; New York Times 11/20/04; Los Angeles Times 11/21/04; Feminist Daily News Wire 9/21/04

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