By Nancy Frazier O’Brien
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — The head of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities welcomed President George W. Bush’s May 3 promise to “veto any legislation that weakens current federal policies and laws on abortion.”
Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia also expressed gratitude in a May 4 statement for pledges by 155 members of the House of Representatives and 34 senators to uphold any such vetoes.
“These pledges help ensure that through the rest of this administration and this Congress Americans need not fear that the federal government will pursue new ways to force them to be involved in government-funded abortions, coercive population programs abroad or the destruction of embryonic human beings,” the cardinal said.
“Instead, we should work together to build respect for human life at its most defenseless stages, and to support women and families facing an unintended pregnancy or caring for family members challenged by age, illness or disability,” he added.
Bush outlined his stand in identical letters May 3 to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“As you know, current law prohibits federal funding for abortion, both domestically and internationally, except in cases of rape, incest or where the life of the mother is endangered,” the president wrote. “Recent legislative practice has ensured that taxpayer funds do not underwrite organizations that perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning.”
Also protected under U.S. laws or policies are human embryos and the conscience rights of health care providers and entities, and taxpayer funds may not be used in “coercive or involuntary family planning programs,” he added.
“I urge that these and other existing, important protections be respected and continued,” Bush told the congressional leaders. “I believe it is the most basic duty of government to guard the innocent. With that in mind, I will veto any legislation that weakens current federal policies and laws on abortion, or that encourages the destruction of human life at any stage.”
The 155 House members had urged Bush to make that pledge in a March 30 letter to the president. A Feb. 1 letter from 34 senators had a similar message and noted that Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush, had issued such a letter June 4, 1991, “to great effect when he was confronted with a Democrat-controlled Congress.”
“An examination of the record will show that attacks of pro-life policy in the Democrat-controlled Congress were much more vociferous prior to the June 4 letter than they were after the letter,” the senators wrote. “It seems the committee chairs were more successful in holding pro-abortion provisions at bay when there was a formal declaration that their legislation had no chance of enactment if it contained pro-abortion and other anti-life measures that weakened present law or regulations.”
Congress was expected to begin work soon on appropriations bills for the next fiscal year. Many current pro-life policies are contained in amendments, or riders, to appropriations bills that must be renewed each year.
The Hyde Amendment, for example, prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions, except in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. It is named for former Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., who retired at the end of the 109th Congress.