Be ready to contact your local senators (unless one of them is Barbara Boxer - she's already got it covered.)
Negotiators Add Abortion Clause to Spending Bills
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and CARL HULSE
WASHINGTON, Saturday, Nov. 20 - House and Senate negotiators have tucked a potentially far-reaching anti-abortion provision into a $388 billion must-pass spending bill, complicating plans for Congress to wrap up its business and adjourn for the year.
The provision may be an early indication of the growing political muscle of social conservatives who provided crucial support for Republican candidates, including President Bush, in the election.
House officials said Saturday morning that the final details of the spending measure were worked out before midnight and that the bill was filed for the House vote on Saturday.
The abortion language would bar federal, state and local agencies from withholding taxpayer money from health care providers that refuse to provide or pay for abortions or refuse to offer abortion counseling or referrals. Current federal law, aimed at protecting Roman Catholic doctors, provides such "conscience protection'' to doctors who do not want to undergo abortion training. The new language would expand that protection to all health care providers, including hospitals, doctors, clinics and insurers.
"It's something we've had a longstanding interest in," said Douglas Johnson, a spokesman for the National Right to Life Committee. He added, "This is in response to an orchestrated campaign by pro-abortion groups across the country to use government agencies to coerce health care providers to participate in abortions."
The provision could affect millions of American women, according to Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, who warned Friday that she would use procedural tactics to slow Senate business to a crawl if the language was not altered.
"I am willing to stand on my feet and slow this thing down," Ms. Boxer said. "Everyone wants to go home, I know that, and I know I will not win a popularity contest in the Senate. But they should not be doing this. On a huge spending bill they're writing law, and they're taking away rights from women."
Ms. Boxer said that she complained to Senator Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, but that he told her that House Republican leaders insisted that the provision, which was approved by the House in July but never came to the Senate for a vote, be included in the measure.
"He said, 'Senator, they want it in, and it's going in,' " Ms. Boxer recalled.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Stevens, Melanie Alvord, said on Friday that her boss would have no comment on the spending bill because House and Senate negotiators had not settled on the final language.
Some lawmakers and Congressional aides interpreted the House leaders' insistence as reflection of the new political strength of the anti-abortion movement and of Christian conservatives, who played an important role in re-electing Mr. Bush this month.
"They are catering to their right wing doing this," said Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa. "It doesn't make it right. I think this is the first step."
Mr. Harkin said he intended to try to force a vote next year on support for upholding the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortion. "I think it is time the women of America understand what is happening here," he said.
The spending measure, called an omnibus bill, was the main reason Congress returned to Washington after the election, and members of both parties say that despite Ms. Boxer's warnings, it is likely to pass with the abortion language intact.
The alternative is to let government funding for a wide array of agencies - like the F.B.I., the National Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency - run out, in effect causing a partial government shutdown.
Lawmakers in the House and the Senate intended to vote on the omnibus bill on Saturday, when a stopgap spending measure is set to expire at midnight. Congress failed to pass 9 of its 13 required spending bills before its election recess, leaving much of the government - with the exception of the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security - to operate under the interim measure.
The 11th-hour controversy over the abortion language capped a long and chaotic day Friday. In the House, the ethics committee ruled that a Democratic lawmaker had brought exaggerated charges against Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the majority leader, a finding that provoked another round of bitter recriminations between Republicans and Democrats.
In the Senate, the Democratic leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who lost his re-election bid, delivered a poignant farewell speech that brought him a standing ovation.
"It's had its challenges, its triumphs, its disappointments," Mr. Daschle said of his 26-year career in Congress, which included a decade as the Democratic leader. "But everything was worth doing."
Mr. Daschle is the first Senate party leader in more than half a century to lose a re-election campaign. His emotional talk, in which he also urged his colleagues to find "common ground," was attended by nearly all of the Senate's Democrats, who gathered him in their arms and hugged him afterward.
But only a few Republicans showed up, and Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, who broke with Senate tradition to campaign against Mr. Daschle in his home state, South Dakota, did not appear until after Mr. Daschle finished speaking. The scant Republican showing provoked Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, to speak out. "I don't know why, why in the closing days, some element of comity, some element of grace, some element of respect for a human being, could not have gotten some of our friends out of their offices," Mr. Lautenberg said.
Outside the Senate chamber, the common ground Mr. Daschle spoke of seemed hard to find. House and Senate negotiators were still trying to salvage a reorganization of the nation's intelligence agencies. And Ms. Boxer was trying to negotiate changes to the abortion language, she said, with little success.
Louise Melling, director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, which has opposed the provision, said would effectively strip states of their right to "enforce laws that were designed to protect women's health."
For instance, she said, there are four states - Hawaii, Maryland, New York and Washington - that pay for some abortions for low-income women through their Medicaid programs. Under the language included in the omnibus bill, hospitals would not have to comply with those requirements.
On Friday, nine female senators - eight Democrats and one Republican, Olympia J. Snowe of Maine - wrote a letter to Senator Stevens asking that the language be changed and complaining that it had not gone through committee or to the Senate floor for a vote.
Ms. Snowe called the language "a bad provision" that would "adversely affect reproductive health access for women across the country." She added, "It is an ill-advised policy that is clearly harmful to women."
The bill generally holds spending to the level sought by the White House. The huge measure also contains scores of home-state projects sought by lawmakers.
For the Record - Nov. 22, 2004
A front-page article on Saturday about a decision by House and Senate negotiators to add an anti-abortion provision to a $388 billion spending bill referred incorrectly in some copies to the number of female senators who called for the measure to be changed because it had not gone through committee or to the Senate floor for a vote. It was nine, not eight.
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