Upcoming Pro-Life Public Policy Issues

By Jonathan Imbody, Vice President for Government Relations

CMDA looks forward to working with the new Congress and President Barack Obama on issues of mutual interest such as human trafficking, international health, combating HIV/AIDS and certain aspects of healthcare reform. However, the outlook for finding common ground on pro-life policies and legislation appears much more challenging.

The recent election put pro-life public policy advocates on the defensive in the House of Representatives by reducing the dependable pro-life vote total. That shift may translate into fewer votes than the requisite majority on abortion funding bills, and even fewer votes on bills funding embryo-destructive research. The Senate stands to lose about half a dozen pro-life votes, and pro-life success in that body will likely depend on the ability of pro-life members to sustain a filibuster.

While the new president and the 111th Congress of the United States will face tremendous pressure to focus first on the economy, education and healthcare reform, abortion advocates are expected to also move to significantly change the landscape on life issues.
Here are some key pro-life issues to watch for when Congress convenes on Jan. 6 and the new president takes the oath of office on Jan. 20:

Executive agenda

Immediately following his Inauguration on Jan. 20, President Obama may act swiftly to administratively:


  1. Repeal the anticipated U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regulation implementing 35 years of federal civil rights law protecting the exercise of conscience in healthcare.
  2. Overturn President Bush’s 2001 order prohibiting federal funding for research on human embryos destroyed after the date of that presidential order.
  3. Reinstate funding for the UNFPA, the UN agency tasked with population control. The U.S. Department of State has found that UNFPA provides financial support to the Chinese population control agency tasked with enforcing China’s coercive "one-child" policy.
  4. Rescind the Mexico City Policy by Executive Order, which would overturn existing policy stating that international family planning dollars may not be allocated to international family planning organizations unless the organization agrees to refrain from performing or promoting abortion.

Legislative agenda

Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA): Abortion advocates crafted this breathtakingly sweeping bill (S.1173 in the 110th Congress) to “guarantee the protections of Roe v. Wade,” and to “prevent State interference with interstate commerce, liberty, or equal protection of the laws.”
FOCA declares, “A government may not—
(1) deny or interfere with a woman's right to choose—
(A) to bear a child;
(B) to terminate a pregnancy prior to viability; or
(C) to terminate a pregnancy after viability where termination is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman; or
(2) discriminate against the exercise of the rights set forth in paragraph (1) in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.”

FOCA would further establish that “It is the policy of the United States that every woman has the fundamental right to choose to bear a child, to terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability, or to terminate a pregnancy after fetal viability when necessary to protect the life or health of the woman.”

Michael Moses of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (with whom CMDA has worked closely to insure conscience protections for healthcare professionals) has written an insightful legal analysis of the effect of FOCA. He points out that FOCA would counter subsequent Supreme Court amendments to its overreaching 1973 decision in Roe v Wade and “wipe out a very large number of existing state laws on abortion, substantially impede the ability of states to regulate abortion, and override nearly 40 years of jurisprudential experience.”

Moses also notes that under FOCA, any “legislation that funds childbirth or other health services but not abortion, public hospitals that provide services related to childbirth but not abortion, and public benefits that pay for childbirth but not abortion — all of these treat abortion differently and therefore could be said to ‘discriminate.’"

Moses concludes, “It is difficult to recall any other single piece of legislation that, in a single stroke, would have such a comparable destructive impact on the government's ability to regulate abortion. The combined impact of these various provisions is the likely invalidation of a broad range of state laws if challenged under FOCA, including:


  1. informed consent laws;
  2. parental notification laws;
  3. laws promoting maternal health, if they result in an increased cost for abortions;
  4. abortion clinic regulations, even those designed to make abortion safer for women;
  5. government programs and facilities that pay for, provide, or insure childbirth or health care services generally, but not abortion;
  6. laws protecting the conscience rights of doctors, nurses and hospitals, if those laws create even minimal delay or inconvenience in obtaining an abortion or treat abortion differently than other medical procedures;
  7. laws prohibiting a particular abortion procedure, such as partial birth abortion 'laws requiring that abortions only be performed by a licensed physician;
  8. laws prohibiting abortion after viability except when necessary to prevent significant, physical harm to the woman;
  9. laws requiring a brief waiting period before an abortion is performed;
  10. laws preventing post-viability sex-selection abortions where a mental health reason is asserted for the abortion;
  11. laws requiring that abortion providers maintain certain records with respect to performed abortions;
  12. laws preventing the carrying to term of a cloned human embryo, and quite possibly laws preventing the implantation of an existing cloned embryo for purposes of bearing the child (sometimes known as bans on ‘reproductive cloning’).”

President-elect Obama announced to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund on July 17, 2007, “The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing that I'd do." However, he and FOCA allies in Congress likely will take note that the Clinton administration’s overly aggressive policy changes early on created a backlash and loss of political capital. Both Obama and his congressional allies will likely resist pressure from abortion rights interest groups for immediate passage of FOCA and instead postpone action for a year or so.

So what may happen while waiting for the FOCA shoe to drop?


  1. Attacks on pro-life “riders” – beginning this year or next, abortion advocates in Congress may begin attacking pro-life amendments typically attached to must-pass appropriations bills. These pro-life “riders” include:

    a. conscience protections to ensure that federal, state and local governments do not discriminate against health care entities because they refuse to provide, pay for or refer for abortion (Hyde-Weldon);

    b. a ban on funding for abortion under Medicaid and other programs funded by the Department of Health and Human Services (Hyde amendment);

    c. conscience protections for health care personnel and providers that participate in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan (Smith)

    d. a ban on using foreign aid to pay for abortions (Helms); a ban on funding Federal Employee Health Benefits Plans that include abortion (Smith);

    e. a ban on using Department of Justice funds to pay for abortions for prisoners.

    f. ban on patenting human organisms (Weldon);

    g. ban on funding embryo destructive research (Dickey-Wicker);

    h. requirement that Title X grantees comply with state child abuse, sexual abuse and rape reporting laws;

    i. provision that prohibits funding for international organizations that as determined by the President support or participate in the management of a coercive abortion program. (Kemp-Kasten);

    j. provision to ensure that international family planning/population control programs are voluntary.

  2. Prevention First Act - Planned Parenthood and NARAL promote this bill (S.21), which was co-sponsored by Barack Obama and is noted as a priority on the Obama transition web site. The bill calls for “repealing current federal funding for abstinence-only programs and replacing it with funding for a new Federal program to promote comprehensive sexuality education.” While the bill would snatch federal funding away from abstinence-only groups and redistribute it to abortion advocates such as Planned Parenthood, abortion advocates nevertheless publicly promote such measures as “common ground” approaches to reduce the number of abortions.

  3. Reducing the Need for Abortion & Supporting Parents Act (H.R. 1074) - provides extensive new funding for the federal Title X program (a key funding source for Planned Parenthood) and provides funds for other programs that could be used to promote abortion. Analysts note that funding for several programs under this bill would require discrimination against faith-based organizations and require that programs distribute the controversial “morning-after pill.”

  4. State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) – though the program was designed for children, some legislators proposed raising the age of beneficiaries to 24. More importantly, legislators may now move to drop the ban on abortion funding. Dropping the current option allowing states to use SCHIP to cover unborn children could be done through administrative action or reauthorization.

  5. Abortion ban in Department of Defense Authorization – could overturn the long-standing policy banning funding for abortions and performance of abortions in military facilities.

  6. Foreign Assistance Act Authorization - reauthorization could overturn the ban on funding for abortion as a method of family planning.

  7. Human Cloning Prohibition Act, (H.R. 2560) – touted as a cloning “ban”, the bill actually has no impact on somatic cell nuclear transfer (human cloning). By allowing human cloning but forbidding the implantation of a cloned embryo, the bill mandates the destruction of cloned embryos.


Regardless of political shifts and challenges, the Christian Medical Association will continue to advocate for the unborn and defenseless by providing public policy leaders with biblically faithful counsel and medically accurate expertise. Individual CMDA members can impact public policy by contacting legislators, agency leaders and the White House to express your values. Above all, pray that God will equip us all to faithfully, untiringly and winsomely build a culture of life in America.