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Will Abortion Derail Health Care Reform?

The Senate moves closer to a vote on health care reform, groups argue over presidential appointments, and the Family Research Council issues a correction.

Sojourners: "Don't Walk Away!"

When the House voted to ban abortion funding in the health care bill, most Christian advocacy groups reacted swiftly with cheers. Sojourners did not join them. This week, Sojourners' founder Jim Wallis finally broke the silence in a letter nearly as long as the legislation itself.

His message: Don't let abortion disagreements "derail and sabotage" health care reform.

For Wallis, the infusion of abortion politics into the health care debate is a problem that could have—and should have—been avoided. He preferred an "abortion neutral" bill that would leave the interpretation of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding of abortion, for the courts to sort out.

Wallis called on both pro-life and pro-choice groups to continue work on a compromise.

"Either make an agreement or live with the outcome of the vote. But don't walk away!" he said. "Health-care reform is fundamentally an issue of social and economic justice—one of the most critical moral issues of our time, and itself an issue of 'life.'"

Many other advocacy groups remain opposed to any compromise.

"The House-passed pro-life amendment is crucial in the pro-life effort to prevent federal funding of abortion in health care," said Doug Carlson of the Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention. "As the focus shifts to the Senate, pro-lifers must insist on an explicit ban on abortion coverage."

"[Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid seeks to cover elective abortions in two big new federal health programs, but tries to conceal that unpopular reality with layers of contrived definitions and hollow bookkeeping requirements," said the NRLC.

Focus on the Family Action sent an action alert asking members to contact their Senators and ask them to vote against any health care bill that does not include the abortion provisions of the Stupak amendment.

Chuck Colson of BreakPoint said the current legislation is a threat to religious liberty because it "has no protections for religious medical personnel or health care providers who, by reason of conscience, refuse to participate in abortions."

Obama's First Big Judicial Test

Until now, President Obama has avoided fights over his judicial nominees. The ones that have made it to the Senate floor have been confirmed by large bipartisan coalitions.

This week was different.

The Senate considered David Hamilton, Obama's nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Some Republicans threatened to filibuster the nominee, but the Senate voted to end any such effort with a vote of 70-29 on Tuesday. Hamilton was confirmed on Thursday by a vote of 59-39.

Concerned Women for America spearheaded a coalition against Hamilton that includes the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, Family Research Council/FRC Action, and Liberty Counsel. This coalition sent a letter to Senators urging a "no" vote on Hamilton for the following three reasons:

  • Hamilton "In 2005 ordered the Speaker of the Indiana House to immediately stop the practice of 'sectarian prayers' at the opening of the legislative session because apparently the prayers were too Christian … [He] later concluded that praying in the name of 'Allah' would be perfectly fine."

  • He overturned Indiana's "informed consent" law that required women to be informed of the risks of abortion.

  • Prior to his judgeship, Hamilton served on the board of Indiana's American Civil Liberties Union and "as a fundraiser for the liberal activist group ACORN."

"Disregarding Supreme Court precedent when it comes to abortion and ignoring our clear and overwhelming history of religious liberty should not be rewarded with a promotion," the coalition wrote. "Judge Hamilton has shown himself to be an activist judge who is all too willing to disregard the law in order to advance ideology."

Judging Feldblum

On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held hearings on Chai Feldblum. Feldblum is the President's nominee for director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A law professor, Feldblum has a long history of activism for gay rights and employee protections and authored the recently passed Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA).

The hearings presented a notable lack of political fireworks, given the pressure by conservatives against Feldblum's nomination. The mood was so light that the questions began with an impromptu singing of "Happy Birthday" to the Committee Chair, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA).

The FRC, which opposed Feldblum's nomination, wrote that "Ms. Feldblum has stated very clearly that religious liberty is not as important as the rights of homosexuals."

The Traditional Values Coalition said, "If confirmed, Feldblum will use her power to strip nearly all First Amendment rights of free exercise of religion from Christian business owners," and that she "would use the force of government to implement aggressive and intrusive employment non-discrimination laws to benefit the LGBT political agenda."

The committee will vote on confirmation later this session.

Religious Bigotry! Oops, never mind.

A series of unfortunate events involving the Family Research Council reminds that you can't believe everything you read.

On Tuesday, the FRC "called on President Obama and Congressional leaders to repudiate comments made by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO)." The comments at issue were originally made in an ABC interview and then misquoted in an article in The Hill. Instead of saying that religious groups "should have input" in legislative process, DeGette was misquoted as saying that they "shouldn't have input."

In the interview, DeGette said, "I've got to say that I think that the Catholic bishops and all of the other groups SHOULD have input."

Before The Hill article could be corrected, the FRC issued a press release calling DeGette's comments "stunning" and charging that "Rep. DeGette's hypocrisy on this matter is breathtaking."

"Apparently, in her view," said FRC President Tony Perkins, "it's OK to be involved in politics and have religious faith—but only as long as you agree with her."

Faith In Public Life (FPL) was quick to point outthe error and call for a correction by the FRC. FPL said that the FRC should have checked the original interview, which was publicly available on the ABC News homepage, before calling a member of Congress a bigot.

The next day, the FRC issued a correction. In a second press release, the FRC noted the error in the Hill article, but maintained that DeGette was "targeting" religious groups out of her frustration with the pro-life victory.

FPL responded by congratulating the FRC on the correction but took issue with FRC's conclusion that DeGette was accusing Christians of violating a separation of church and state.

Why all the fuss over DeGette's comments? One possible reason is that DeGette is leading pro-choice efforts against the restrictions in the Stupak amendment that bans federal funding of abortion. She has vowed to vote against legislation if the restrictions in the Stupak amendment are not removed. She is the lead author of a letter signed by 90 members of Congress, asking the White House to discuss abortion coverage in the health care reform legislation.

Related Elsewhere:

Earlier Political Advocacy Trackers include:

Fear of Muslims and Fear of Bigotry | As Congress took most of the week off for Veterans Day, groups reacted to the tragedy at Fort Hood and a surprise pro-life victory in the health care debate. (November 11, 2009)
After Election Day, the Vote Everyone Has Been Waiting For | Tuesday brought big news on same-sex unions and the election outcomes of conservative candidates, but all eyes are now on the health-care bill. (November 6, 2009)
Health Care Cacophony | Plus: D.C. debates gay marriage, President Obama approves a new hate crimes law, and other issues advocacy groups were talking about this week. (October 30, 2009)

Christianity Today also follows political developments on the politics blog.

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