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Life Issues Forum: No Right to Choose

Richard M. Doerflinger

December 18, 2015

As I write this, Congress is poised to approve a final “omnibus” bill to keep the government funded next year.  Conspicuously absent from it is anything new on abortion.  Provisions to de-fund abortion giant Planned Parenthood, protect late-term unborn children, or even help protect children born alive during an abortion ended up on the cutting room floor.

Surprisingly, a modest measure to make federal conscience laws on abortion more effective – known as the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act – was also left out.  The Catholic community in particular had made an unprecedented effort to pass ANDA, generating hundreds of thousands of email messages to Congress with the help of the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment (NCHLA).

ANDA was different from other proposals because the right to decline participating in abortion has enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Congress for four decades.  The laws protecting this right have been signed by chief executives of both parties — including President Obama, whose Administration has said it strongly supports these laws and wants them fully enforced.  And it is obvious they are not being enforced. Cathy DeCarlo, a nurse illegally forced to take part in a late-term abortion in New York in 2009, waited for four years for federal law to work, until her case was declared moot because her employer finally changed its policy.  Catholic bishops in California filed a complaint over a year ago against an illegal abortion coverage mandate imposed by a state agency even on religious institutions, and nothing has happened to resolve what should be an open-and-shut case.  New York state is now imposing its own mandate, encouraged by California’s ability to defy federal law with impunity.  Passage of ANDA would allow the laws to work as they should.

There are several reasons why that did not happen this year.  While Republican leaders in the House of Representatives strongly pressed for approval of ANDA, some of their party’s most conservative members would not vote for a funding bill that fell short of their fiscal or other policy goals, even if it included ANDA.  So House approval required Democratic votes, and the first thing Democratic leaders wanted was removal of new pro-life language.

But the strongest opponent of ANDA was President Obama himself.  Ignoring his own past statements at the University of Notre Dame and elsewhere that he would fully protect the rights of those who disagree with him on abortion, he threatened to veto the entire funding bill if conscience language were included.  It seems significant progress on this issue must await a new Administration, or at least a major change in this President’s position.

This is the latest sign of a shift in the movement formerly known as “pro-choice.”  When Planned Parenthood said in 2014 it would no longer use this slogan, some thought this was just because the word was overused and no longer grabbed people’s attention.  The increasingly visible reality, though, is that pro-abortion groups don’t believe in respecting any choice that disagrees with their own.  The new mantra is that abortion is basic “women’s health care” – so any doctor, nurse or hospital that won’t provide abortions should be kicked out of the health care system for practicing substandard medicine.  Nurse DeCarlo and other women don’t have a right to choose not to do abortions.

That is a frightening reality, but an opportunity as well.  It means that millions of Americans who have evaded the moral reality of abortion for years, by saying they just think everyone should have a choice, may have to choose between a movement that respects neither life nor choice, and one that understands the claims of both.  The abortion industry and some allies think it’s time to celebrate abortion as a positive and essential good.  That doesn’t mean most Americans will fall for it.

Richard Doerflinger is Associate Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  For more about conscience rights see and

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