Religion in Society

Abortion Takes Spotlight in House Budget Battle

| by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives approved March 15 another measure to extend funding of federal agencies in the short term, but support by conservative Republicans dropped considerably.

The House voted 271-158 for the continuing resolution, which -- if approved by the Senate -- will maintain spending for federal programs through April 8 and avert a government shutdown for the time being. On March 1, the House voted 335-91 for a continuing resolution that is in effect through March 18.

While only six Republicans opposed the March 1 resolution, 54 GOP members voted against the latest proposal. In explaining their votes against the measure, the new opponents cited their desire not to delay addressing the country's financial problems, as well as the short-term bill's failure to bar government funding of abortion.

Rep. Mike Pence, R.-Ind., told his colleagues from the House floor he would oppose the continuing resolution. "Things don't change in Washington until they have to," Pence said. "It's time to pick a fight."

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Some pro-life and pro-family organizations also called for Congress to provide a long-term solution.

"These watered-down continuing resolutions just kick the can down the road to avoid an inevitable showdown that must take place between the Republicans who were elected in near record numbers in the 2010 election to go to Washington and cut the budget -- and to cut it drastically -- with the establishment Democrats in the House and the Senate who don't think we should cut government at all," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

On Feb. 19, the GOP-controlled House approved a conservative-backed continuing resolution that would have extended appropriations through the rest of the fiscal year, which expires Sept. 30, in a 235-189. That legislation would have cut about $61 billion from last year's spending level. The Democrat majority in the Senate, however, voted down the House-approved bill. That longer-term continuing resolution contained several provisions eliminating federal funding of abortion and abortion performers, including one championed by Pence that barred money for Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its affiliates, a network that constitutes the country's No. 1 abortion provider.

That continuing resolution was an "important first step toward turning our national government back in the direction of fiscal discipline, defunding Obamacare [last year's health-care law] and even restoring the sanctity of life to the center of the federal budget. But it was rejected by liberals in the Senate," Pence said.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, opposed the three-week resolution, saying, "If Congress can't cut off taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood, a willing partner of the exploitation of women and young girls, how can it be serious about cutting spending anywhere else? The time to end taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood is not next week, or in three weeks, or in a month; it's now."

Planned Parenthood and its affiliates received $363.2 million in government grants and contracts during the 2008-09 fiscal year, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Some of that total came from state and local governments. Planned Parenthood -- which recently issued new rules requiring at least one clinic per affiliate to perform abortions -- recorded more than 332,000 abortions at its clinics in 2009.

Hidden-camera investigations in recent years have shown Planned Parenthood employees indicating a willingness to assist sex traffickers of minor girls and to cover up sexual abuse of underage females.

Also included in the continuing resolution through September were such pro-life measures as:

-- Reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy, which would bar federal money for organizations that perform or promote abortions overseas.

-- Restoration of a ban on funds for the United Nations Population Fund, which has been found to support China's coercive population control program.

-- Reinstitution of a prohibition on the use of federal and congressionally approved local funds for elective abortions in the District of Columbia.

That continuing resolution also included a provision eliminating funds for both Title X, the federal government's family planning program, and implementation of last year's health-care reform law. Planned Parenthood is the leading recipient of Title X funds. Although Title X funds do not go directly for abortions, pro-life advocates contend federal money frees up other contributions to Planned Parenthood for the promotion and performance of abortions.

Though the short-term continuing resolutions have cut a total of about $10 billion, Land said that amounts to "an extreme, short-gap measure. We need a significant reduction of the budget, and we need it quickly. Our debt is rapidly spinning out of control, and we are borrowing more than 40 cents of every dollar we spend as a government, and that's nothing less than generational theft."

Congress failed to pass a budget last year, adopting instead a resolution that continued funding for the federal government through March 4.