WASHINGTON -- Abortion rights advocates in the Senate are seeking to overturn a longstanding ban on abortions in military facilities.
The Senate Armed Services Committee passed an amendment to repeal the prohibition as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2011. The panel voted 15-12 for the amendment before sending the overall bill to the full Senate with an 18-10 roll call.
The defense authorization bill approved in the House of Representatives does not include the measure repealing the ban. If the Senate bill includes the provision, its fate in the final version would be negotiated in a conference committee of members of both houses.
The amendment, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Roland Burris of Illinois, would eliminate a ban on elective privately funded abortions in military health care facilities that has been in place for the last 14 years. Burris' proposal would not affect the prohibition that exists on publicly funded abortions at armed services hospitals.
The ban on privately funded abortions, which was first implemented in its current form in 1988 under President Reagan, was repealed during the first Clinton administration, but Congress re-established it in 1996. Efforts since then to eliminate the prohibition -- which permits exceptions if a woman's life is threatened or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest -- have been unsuccessful.
Pro-life, Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi called for his fellow senators to reverse the committee's action.
"[I]f this amendment stands, the medical facilities of our military installations ... will be able to be used for abortions performed late term, abortions performed for purposes of sex selection, abortions performed for any reason, abortions performed at will," Wicker said in a floor speech May 28, a day after the committee approved the amendment.
After gaining committee passage of his amendment, Burris said in a written release the right to abortion in military facilities is "critical [if the U.S. is to] provide the highest quality care for our service members."
The roll call on Burris' amendment was nearly a party-line vote. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the lone Democrat to vote with Republicans against the proposal.
The Armed Services Committee also added an amendment to the defense authorization bill to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on homosexuals in the military. The panel voted 16-12 for the measure. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the sole Republican to vote for repeal, while Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia was the only Democrat to vote against it.
Enacted in 1993, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" prevents homosexuals from serving openly but also prohibits military commanders from asking service members if they are homosexual or about their "sexual orientation."