WASHINGTON – President Bush is warning Democratic leaders that any attempt to weaken federal policies that restrict abortion will be met with a veto.
White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said Friday that the warning, issued in letters to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, was intended to stop abortion amendments from being added to spending bills and other legislation that Congress will be considering in the coming weeks.
"There's nothing specific pending right now," Fratto said.
The Republicans who held power in past sessions of Congress ensured that spending bills included language prohibiting federal funding for abortion except to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest, and restricting funding for international family planning groups that might give advice on or provide abortions.
Now in the minority, House and Senate Republicans recently wrote the president urging him to make clear that any weakening of those restrictions would be unacceptable.
"The standing pattern is that appropriate conscience protections must be in place for health care entities, and that taxpayer dollars may not be used in coercive or involuntary family planning programs," Bush said in letters dated Thursday.
"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," he wrote.
Bush has already threatened to veto legislation, passed by the House and Senate in different forms this year, that would ease restrictions on federally funded embryonic stem cell research. He killed a similar stem cell bill last year in the first veto of his presidency.
Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley, said that "if the president is serious about finding common ground on this divisive issue, he should support Sen. Reid's efforts to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies in this country." Reid and others are sponsoring legislation that would improve family planning services, require insurance companies to pay for birth control and provide effective sex education for young people.
The letter was hailed by anti-abortion leaders such as Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee, who said his group appreciates "that the president is drawing a bright line."
"President Bush is not the first man to occupy the Oval Office who talked about valuing preborn life, but no administration has backed up those words with as much consistent policy support as his has," said Dr. James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family Action.
On the other side, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said Bush had essentially told the new Congress "that he wants to continue denying millions of women access to essential medical services, including family planning and safe, legal abortion, even if it means jeopardizing their health."