- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2009

NEW YORK | The advent of the Obama administration is rousing enthusiasm among pro-choice supporters and deep anxiety among opponents as both sides mark Thursday’s anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Pro-choice groups view President Obama — and the Democratic leadership in Congress — as allies who are likely to ease restrictions on federal funding, broaden family-planning programs and install federal judges who support the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion.

Pro-life activists fear multiple political setbacks and are urging the Republican minority in the Senate to filibuster if necessary.

“The alignment of a hard-core pro-abortion president with pro-abortion Democratic majorities in Congress means that many existing pro-life policies are now in great jeopardy,” Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee wrote in a memo this month.

“Some damage is inevitable,” he added. “But the extent to which the Obama abortion agenda will be achieved will depend on the perception of elected policymakers as to how the public is responding to the proposed changes.”

Mr. Obama can take some steps without Congress. Pro-choice supporters hope he will quickly repeal the so-called “global gag rule,” which bans overseas family planning groups that receive U.S. funds from providing any abortion-related services or information.

“He could move right away,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “It would make a big, big difference in the lives of poor women abroad.”

The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Francis George, wrote Mr. Obama last week urging him to keep the funding ban, arguing that “a shift toward promoting abortion in developing nations would also increase distrust of the United States.”

In the U.S., pro-choice groups are backing what they call a “common-ground, common-sense” agenda in Congress aimed at reducing the number of unintended pregnancies. The Prevention First Act, already endorsed by Mr. Obama, would increase federal funding for family planning, promote comprehensive sex education and expand women’s access to contraceptives.

Other proposals, supported by moderates and conservatives, would provide incentives for pregnant women to carry to term. But there would likely be bitter debate, largely along partisan lines, if Democrats try to repeal the 33-year-old Hyde Amendment and other laws that ban federal funding for abortions under almost all circumstances.

Pro-life activists would like these bans lifted so that poor women could get abortions through Medicaid and servicewomen could get abortions through military health programs. Conservatives have mounted a petition drive aimed at pressuring House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, to preserve the bans.

Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat and a lead sponsor of the Prevention First Act, said she opposes the Hyde Amendment but would not make it a priority to repeal it this year.

“Our efforts should be focused on finding common ground to prevent unwanted pregnancies so you won’t have to worry about abortions in the first place,” she said in a telephone interview Wednesday.