There are battles won and lost day after day on Capitol Hill that are off the radar screens of most Americans. One such battle occurs this week.
“The Sanchez Amendment” is an attempt by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D., Calif.) to change current U.S. policy regarding abortions in U.S. military hospitals.
The amendment, proposed as an addition to the Department authorization bill (HR 1588), is disingenuous on its face. It says that it would not require the Department of Defense to pay for abortions, but, in fact, it would. Who would perform the abortions? Military personnel? Where would they be? Military hospitals? Taxpayers would have a hand in it.
The support for the current policy-disallowing elective abortions in U.S. military hospitals (there are rape/incest/health-of-the-mother exceptions)-actually has support on both sides of the aisle, and it has a history. The effort to nix the ban has been rejected every year since 1996. President Clinton signed the prohibition into law in 1996 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.
The ban has bipartisan support for some practical reasons. Yes, pro-lifers have been flooding the offices of House members to encourage them to vote down the Sanchez amendment on moral grounds. The United States military performing abortions is a terrible culture of death moment, from the perspective of one opposed to abortion. A military that just liberated Iraq with minimal loss of life in the business of extinguishing innocent life for the sake of convenience is a bad and fundamentally contradictory message. But there are also lessons from recent history that transcend the abortion debate.
When abortions were permitted on military installations from 1993 until Bill Clinton signed the prohibition into law in 1996, military medical personnel refused to have anything to do with it. Doctors, nurses, support staff wanted no hand in abortions. So outsiders had to be brought in perform the abortions. So the military winds up paying more people, specifically to end pregnancies. The current general trend in doctor hesitancy to learn to or perform abortions suggests this would be no different today or in the foreseeable future.
The Sanchez amendment is likely to be defeated, again, either Wednesday or Thursday of this week.
Then it will be on to the Senate. Last year Senator Patty Murray (D., Wash.) sponsored her body’s version of the provision. Last year, the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, used the “veto” word in advising the congressional conference committee on the bill.
If the amendment is defeated, as it is expected to be, at least in the House, and probably in conference, if not in the Senate, it will certainly be considered a pro-life victory. But that doesn’t have to get pro-choicers up in arms. There are so many other fights. There are so many other venues. The U.S. military has so many more important things to do than get mired in the abortion debate-and, frankly, to accommodate an unnecessary procedure. Even if you support abortion rights, isn’t there something about a “pro-life” military that feels right?