Beyond the Same Old Abortion Debate

As members of Congress roll out a host of anti-abortion legislation, African Americans on both sides of the debate say it's time to look beyond the old concepts of pro-choice and pro-life.

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It started with H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. Introduced in late January by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), the bill would prevent tax benefits for health care plans that cover abortion and also change language in the Hyde Amendment that allows government funding for abortion in cases of rape, incest or endangerment of the pregnant woman’s life.

Under this new legislation, as originally presented, the rape exemption would be limited to so-called forcible rape. Yet after concerted pushback by pro-choice advocates — outraged that it would exclude coverage for women who say no without physically fighting off the assailant, women who are drugged or minors who are victims of statutory rape — the phrase “forcible rape” was later stripped from the bill.

Not that the controversy has deterred the new House Republican majority. In the weeks since H.R. 3’s debut, Congress has introduced a veritable roster of abortion legislation:

* There’s Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Pitts’ newly reintroduced Protect Life Act, which both forbids federal abortion funding in the 2010 health care reform law and lets hospitals refuse to perform any abortions, including emergency procedures needed to save the lives of pregnant women.

* The Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act, sponsored by Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, would ban federal dollars from going to any organization that provides abortion services.

* Rep. Rand Paul of Kentucky co-sponsored the Life at Conception Act, a bill that he predicts would “reverse Roe v. Wade without the need for a constitutional amendment” by declaring fetuses to be legal persons protected under the 14th Amendment, and thus granted all the rights of a person.

House Democrats have pushed back, starting with a press conference last week to avow their rejection of H.R. 3. “The Republicans came to power in Congress saying they were going to focus on job creation and economic growth, but the introduction of this bill reveals their obsession with pushing an extreme social agenda that further restricts the right of women to access health services, including abortions, and have a say over their own bodies,” California Rep. Maxine Waters said at the presser before concluding, “If it’s a fight the Republicans want, then it’s a fight we’ll give them.”

Looking Beyond Life and Choice

Pro-lifers are hoping that African Americans will take up their side of the battle. According to a 2009 Pew Research Center survey (pdf), 40 percent of African Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. From former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum expressing amazement in January that a black man (President Barack Obama) could ever be pro-choice, to billboard campaigns that liken abortion to black genocide, African Americans are now positioned at the center of the rekindled debate.