Democrats Disappoint Abortion-Rights Advocates
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Advocates for certain social programs celebrated when Democrats won control of Congress last year. Celebration didn't last. The season's first big spending bills are dashing many of their hopes. Among the most disappointed are abortion rights groups, as NPR's Julie Rovner reports.
JULIE ROVNER: At first the news looked good, said Donna Crane of NARAL Pro-Choice America. The proposed bill to fund the Department of Health and Human Services includes a major increase for the federal family planning program. That will pay for more contraceptive services for low-income women and teens.
Ms. DONNA CRANE (Director for Government Affairs, NARAL Pro-Choice America): It's a $27-million increase, 10 percent increase, which is much larger than we ever saw under control of the Congress by anti-choice leadership.
ROVNER: But the bill also provides for an increase in funding for so-called abstinence-only sex education programs. Crane says that's totally unwarranted.
Ms. CRANE: There are more studies than you could possibly count that say that the programs simply don't work, and some studies even show that they might do harm because they tell young people, oh gosh, don't bother to use contraception. And that's the most dangerous message we could possibly be giving them.
ROVNER: Crane says abortion rights groups are also unhappy with another of the appropriations bills, this one for foreign aid. They had hoped lawmakers would restore U.S. funding for the United Nations Population Fund, which President Bush cut off in 2002.
Ms. CRANE: These are dollars that prevent unintended pregnancies around the world and reduce the need for abortion. It doesn't make any sense to us that we wouldn't do all we could in this area.
ROVNER: Actually, says Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee, it does make sense to allow the anti-abortion policies to stay in the spending bills this year if Democrats want to get those bills passed so that their other spending priorities can take effect.
Mr. DOUGLAS JOHNSON (National Right to Life Committee): The Democratic leadership badly wants to show that they can make the appropriations trains run on time. And they know that if they attempt to repeal these established pro-life policies, they'd be blowing up their own railroad bridges. And the likely result of attempting to repeal these pro-life policies would be to doom individual appropriation bills, not to change the policies.
ROVNER: That's because President Bush last month issued a blanket veto threat against changing or removing any of the anti-abortion language embedded in the various spending bills, things like the Hyde Amendment that bans federal funding of most abortions. And there are easily enough pro-life votes in the House and Senate to sustain those vetoes.
Indeed, House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey of Wisconsin said he had little choice but to leave the anti-abortion riders in the bills.
Representative DAVID OBEY (Democrat, Wisconsin): In order to be able to pass a bill with enough votes to avoid a presidential veto or override a presidential veto, you have to make certain compromises. I made that compromise. I make absolutely no apology for it. It was the right thing to do.
ROVNER: And Obey made clear his annoyance with the complaints from pro-choice groups.
Rep. OBEY: This is about getting needed services to people. It's about people behaving like adults and recognizing that you can't hold your breath and turn blue and always get your own way.
ROVNER: Senators may be more disposed to pick a fight with the president over abortion. They'll get down to work on the spending bills next month.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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