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GOP Sens. To Fight Defense Authorization Bill Over Abortion Provision

GOP Sens. To Fight Defense Authorization Bill Over Abortion Provision

June 2, 2010 — Senate Republicans say they are prepared to filibuster the chamber's defense authorization bill (S 3280) over a provision offered by Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) that would allow servicewomen to receive abortion care in military hospitals if they pay for the procedure themselves, CQ Today reports. Last month, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 16-10 to approve the Burris amendment.

Current law prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion services in military hospitals except in cases of rape or incest, and it also prohibits servicewomen from using their own funds to pay for abortion care in military hospitals. Federal funds can be used to pay for abortion care in cases of life endangerment. The Burris amendment repealed the prohibition in the use of private funds to pay for abortion care in military hospitals but maintains restrictions on the use of federal money for abortion services at military hospitals except in case of rape, incest or life endangerment.

Supporters of the provision argue that the current law creates special problems for women who are stationed overseas because they are often situated in areas where local facilities are inadequate or unavailable. Burris said overseas military bases house more than 100,000 service members and their families, who "rely on military hospitals for their health care." He added, "It is critical that we provide the highest quality care for our service members while they are serving our nation overseas, and that includes allowing women and their families the right to choose at facilities operated under the Department of Defense."

Some GOP senators have tied the abortion provision with legislation that would allow gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military, calling the measures examples of "social engineering" and vowing to filibuster when the bill is brought to the floor, CQ Today reports. In a May 28 floor speech, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said the abortion provision would allow military medical facilities "to be used for abortions performed late term, abortions performed for purposes of sex selection, abortions performed for any reason, abortions at will." The amendment is "another piece of social engineering, another vast and serious and consequential departure from long-standing Department of Defense policy," Wicker said, adding, "I guarantee you this will be challenged on the floor for the House and Senate with separate amendments."

According to CQ Today, it is unclear when the Senate will take up the bill, although Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he hopes the chamber will pass its version this summer. The House version (HR 5136) passed on May 28.

The Department of Defense issued an executive order in 1988 imposing the restriction on privately funded abortion services, and it was first codified in the fiscal year 1996 defense authorization law (PL 104-106) (Donnelly, CQ Today, 6/1).