More Abortion Battles Loom For Obama

Opponents of abortion plan to protest this weekend when President Obama delivers the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame. But the controversy will be far from over when the president returns to Washington.

Since taking office, Obama has worked hard to try to find at least some common ground with abortion foes. His staffers have held meetings between abortion-rights backers and opponents to try to find areas of agreement on policies that could reduce the need for abortion by preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place or by helping women keep their babies or place them for adoption.

But those largely private efforts have been overshadowed by Obama's reversals of several key Bush administration policies.

Since taking office, the new administration has changed the course on embryonic stem cell research, aid to international family-planning organizations and rules that permit health workers to refuse to perform abortions or other medical procedures they find objectionable.

Those were all basic fulfillment of campaign promises. But if Obama thinks he can turn down the heat on the abortion debate, he better think again, says John Green, senior fellow with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

"The thing that confronts President Obama is that this issue will keep coming up," Green says.

The next place that's likely to happen is on the 13 appropriations bills that fund the government. Over the years, language has been added to many of the bills that restricts federal funds from being used for abortion or abortion-related activities.

The oldest and best known is the so-called Hyde amendment, which bars federal funding for abortion in the Medicaid program. It's named for the late Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, who first proposed it in 1976. The measure, in various iterations, has been included in the spending bill that funds the Department of Health and Human Services continuously since 1977.

Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee says the Hyde amendment has been one of the most effective anti-abortion laws ever enacted. "At the very minimum, there are over 1 million Americans walking around today alive because of the Hyde amendment," he says.

The appropriations bills also contain many other abortion-related spending limits, ranging from bans on private insurance companies that cover federal workers being allowed to offer abortion as an option, to bans on the District of Columbia being allowed to use locally raised tax dollars to pay for abortion for its residents.

Now, with Democrats in control of both the Congress and White House for the first time in 15 years, abortion-rights groups hope to get rid of at least some of those restrictions.

"Our view has always been that those funding restrictions are discriminatory, mean-spirited and they really target the most vulnerable women in America. And it's our long-standing position that they should be repealed," said Donna Crane, policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice America.

But Johnson says those on his side won't let the restrictions go without a fight. He points out that Democratic majorities don't necessarily translate into abortion-rights majorities, particularly on the issue of public funding for abortion.

"These policies have broad public support," Johnson says. "So I think if any of these policies comes under attack, you will see a big fight in Congress and you will see a spillover effect on the president's standing among many voters."

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