President Obama has issued a budget recommendation for the 2010 fiscal year that would ease the restrictions on taxpayer funds for abortions in Washington D.C., a change that has drawn criticism from pro-life organizations across the nation.
Unlike other U.S. states and territories, the budget for the District of Columbia is reviewed and modified by Congress and the President before it is approved.
In its submission for the fiscal year 2010, the Obama administration has reversed the “Dornan Amendment,” introduced in 1988 to prevent both federal and local tax dollars from funding abortions in the District of Columbia, except in cases of rape or “where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term.”
Under the Obama administration's alterations, the prohibition will only apply to federal tax money, and the exemptions would be expanded to include any case “where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness,” including those physical conditions that endanger the life of the mother.
The recommended change has raised strong concerns among pro-life groups.
“The Dornan Amendment is commonsense policy that should be retained by Congress,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of the Susan B. Anthony List, a network dedicated to supporting pro-life women in the political process.
Dannenfelser joined the House Pro-Life Women’s Caucus in speaking out against the change at a news conference last week. “Women facing unplanned pregnancies deserve woman-centered solutions to help both mother and child, not abortion on-demand, which pits mother against child in the most tragic of circumstances,” she said.
“We won't find reductions in abortion as long as we continue to subsidize and promote it at taxpayers' expense,” she continued. “The Obama administration's promise to find ways to reduce abortion numbers rings hollow in such an environment.”
The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the nation’s largest pro-life organization, issued a statement calling the move a “political scam.”
"President Obama is pursuing a step-by-step strategy to expand access to abortion, and today's step is to urge Congress to authorize the funding of abortion on demand in the nation's capital, with funds appropriated by Congress," said Doug Johnson, legislative director for the NRLC.
"If Congress goes along with the Obama proposal, the predictable result will be tax funding of several thousand elective abortions annually, including roughly 1,000 abortions annually that would not otherwise occur," Johnson explained, pointing to studies showing that policies barring tax-funded abortions actually prevent at least one-third of the abortions that would otherwise occur among given populations.
Christa Lopiccolo, director of life issues for the Archdiocese of Washington, also responded to the news, saying, “More than 40 percent of all pregnancies in the District of Columbia already end in abortion. In fact, Washington, DC has one of the highest abortion rates in the country.”
Lopiccolo expressed her belief that increased funding will likely increase the number of abortions in Washington, DC and went on to say that instead of more abortions, women need more access to services that will help them support the lives of their children.
Noting that national surveys show that the majority of taxpayers in the District of Columbia oppose abortion, she said that “it is unconscionable that funds from taxpayers…would be used to destroy innocent human life.”
Although Obama has spoken of looking for “common ground” on the issue of abortion, pro-life groups are concerned that adding a broader non-life-threatening “health” exception to provide more funding for abortion may provide a slippery slope in the opposite direction.
In past abortion cases, exceptions for the “health” of the mother have been interpreted by the Supreme Court to include “physical, emotional, psychological [and] familial” factors.