Gutting Dornan Amendment, Senate approves local funding for abortions in D.C.

Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), Chair of the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.
Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), Chair of the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.


On Sunday the U.S. Senate approved a $447 billion omnibus bill with an altered Dornan Amendment, a ban that previously restricted funding for most abortions in the District of Columbia, the nation’s capital. Some pro-life commentators said the action contradicted past pledges to work to reduce the need for abortion.

The spending bill contained funding for dozens of federal agencies and the District of Columbia. It passed by a 57 to 35 margin after securing 60 votes to end a Republican filibuster.

A provision known as the Dornan Amendment had previously barred federal funding of abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the life of the mother.

According to Cardinal Justin Rigali, the former chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, chaired by Rep José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), didn’t totally eliminate the Dornan Amendment, but successfully gutted it.

“Instead of continuing to bar use of all congressionally appropriated funds for such abortions, the subcommittee narrowed the ban to cover only 'federal' funds so 'local' funds may be used for abortions without limit or restraint,” the cardinal wrote in a July 30, 2009 letter to the House Appropriations Committee.

“Because Congress controls and must appropriate all public funds for the District of Columbia, this distinction is a bookkeeping exercise only: The impact in terms of human lives will be exactly the same as if the amendment were reversed in its entirety,” Cardinal Rigali explained.

Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) said in a Tuesday statement that he voted against the omnibus bill because it increased spending at a “simply unsustainable” rate and because of its funding for abortions.

"Not only are Democrats trying to subsidize abortions through their health care bill, but now they are trying to change long standing policy against funding abortions in the appropriations bills,” he charged. “This is completely unacceptable and I will continue to fight against the use of taxpayer dollars for abortions."

Christa Lopiccolo, Director of Life Issues for the Archdiocese of Washington, criticized the repeal of the Dornan Amendment in a July 10 statement reacting to the passage of the bill by House and Senate committees.

She said the action “flies in the face of common sense and the will of the people.”

“With an abortion rate exceeding 40 percent in the District of Columbia, it is difficult to imagine what justification anyone could have to increase abortion funding,” Lopiccolo continued. “Not only that, but national polls show that the majority of Americans oppose abortion. It is unconscionable that their tax money now could be used to destroy innocent human life.”

Noting the stated goal of the Obama Administration and many members of Congress to reduce the need for abortions, Lopiccolo said the removal of restrictions on funding would “do nothing to achieve that goal” but likely will increase the number of abortions performed in the District of Columbia.

According to the archdiocese, the amendment has been in place for most of the past two decades.


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