Lawmakers Gird for Next Abortion Battle

A fresh political battle over taxpayer-funded abortions is brewing less than one month after President Obama lifted a Bush administration ban on giving federal money to international groups that perform or promote the controversial procedure.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are fighting to maintain anti-abortion measures called riders that are added to spending bills to prevent taxpayer money from being spent on funding abortions here or abroad.

"This is the next major fight on the abortion issue," said Jay Sekulow, the chief counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice, which is working with lawmakers in their effort to maintain the riders. "It's going to be tough. These are uphill battles."

Some of the riders -- provisions that have little to do with the spending legislation and don't require debate --  have been in place for more than 30 years. For example, the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funding of abortions performed in the U.S. except in rare cases, has been in effect since 1976 and was enacted under a Democratic Congress.

Reps. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, are collecting signatures from fellow lawmakers for a letter asking for the annual riders to be included for the $410 billion omnibus spending bill that Congress will use as the remainder of the 2009 fiscal year budget.

"We believe that failure to include all of the current policies with regard to the right of life will mark a radical departure from a policy a majority of Americans support," the lawmakers wrote in the letter that will be sent to Democratic leaders next week. The letter requests a floor debate on the issue if all the riders are not included.

"If this Congress intends to rescind these riders, at a minimum, the American people deserve a full debate with an up-or-down vote."

Neither the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nor Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, responded immediately to a request for comment.

So far, 171 lawmakers have signed the letter -- 150 Republicans and 21 Democrats.

Jordan told that he hopes there is a floor debate, likening it to a Friday night high school football game.

"There may be one team strongly favored to win, but you still play the game," he said, adding later that Republicans "can't win on a lot of votes on issues but we can take the message to the American people and when you do that, it gives you a chance to influence the process and maybe win some votes."

Shuler told that this shouldn't be a political issue because both parties need to do more in protecting life -- from conception to birth for Democrats and from birth to death for Republicans.

"We would be doing a disservice to those unborn children if we make this a political issue," he said. "I just think it's time to work together instead of playing politics."

Obama has said he is in favor of abortion rights but wants to work with abortion opponents to reduce the number of abortions performed. However, he raised doubts about his intentions when he signed the so-called Mexico City policy last month. That policy allows federal funding to be used by nongovernmental organizations that do health care services, including abortions, outside the U.S.

"It's one thing to talk about wanting to find common ground," Jordan said of Obama. "But the actions speak a lot louder."

Obama also raised serious questions about his promises of transparency when he signed the executive order without media coverage, said Sekulow. Now come the riders, which can be removed without notice.

"Anytime you can deal with riders, it's stealth policy," said Sekulow.