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More Abortion Battles Loom For Obama

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More Abortion Battles Loom For Obama


More Abortion Battles Loom For Obama

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For President Obama, the controversy over abortion won't end after this weekend. As NPR's Julie Rovner reports, the president is likely to face a long, hot summer of abortion related battles.

JULIE ROVNER: Although he supports abortion rights, the president likes to lower the temperature on the abortion debate by stressing areas of agreement. Here he is in the final presidential debate last fall.

President BARACK OBAMA: (as presidential candidate) We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.

ROVNER: And since taking office, he's reached out to abortion opponents, creating an office to work on abortion reduction and appointing pro-life members to his faith-based office advisory board. John Green is a senior fellow with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Dr. JOHN GREEN (Senior Fellow, Forum on Religion and Public Life): There's been a real effort, I think, on the part of the administration to diffuse this issue and seek some kind of common ground.

ROVNER: But those actions have been more than outweighed by the actual policy changes the president's made. He's reversed the Bush administration approach to embryonic stem cell research and aid to international family-planning organization, among other issues, that's what's prompted the outrage over his Notre Dame commencement address. And Green says the conflict's just begun.

Dr. GREEN: The thing that confronts President Obama is that this issue will keep coming up.

ROVNER: Shorty after Memorial Day, Congress begins work on the 12 spending bills needed to keep the government running. Many of the those bills have specific language which must be renewed each year that prevents federal funds from being used to pay for abortions or abortion-related services. The most famous by far is the so-called Hyde Amendment, named for the late Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois. It prohibits the use of Medicaid dollars for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or if a pregnancy endangers the woman's life. Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee says that without that language…

Mr. DOUGLAS JOHNSON (National to Life Committee): …the federal government would once again be paying for abortion on demand, abortion as a method of birth control, which is what they did before there was a Hyde Amendment. So you'd be talking about hundreds of thousands of abortion a year tax-funded.

ROVNER: The Hyde language has been law in one form or another for more than 30 years. That's unlikely to change this year. But the Hyde Amendment is only one of nearly a dozen different limits embedded in the spending bills, some of which may be more vulnerable. For example, a provision in another bans the District of Columbia from using city-raised tax money to pay for abortions. Private health insurers who sell policies to federal workers can't cover abortion and service women and military-dependent can't use overseas military hospitals for abortions, even if they pay for the procedure out of pocket. Donna Crane is policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Ms. DONNA CRANE (Policy Director, NARAL Pro-Choice America): 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.

ROVNER: Abortion rights supporters say that having Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and a supportive president, they'd like to start stripping at least some of those policies out of the spending bills. But Douglas Johnson of National Right to Life warned that Democratic majorities don't necessarily translate into abortion rights majorities.

Mr. JOHNSON: And those policies have broad public support. So, I think if any of those comes under attack, you will see a big fight in Congress.

ROVNER: And a president ultimately forced to take sides again. Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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