So Much For the “Mythical” Freedom of Choice Act

Deal W. Hudson
March 9, 2009

Many Democrats are wise enough to have a healthy fear of FOCA, the Freedom of Choice Act. Those on the religious left who support President Barack Obama are particularly sensitive to the symbolic power of FOCA to undercut their messaging about “abortion reduction.” If FOCA were to cause much-beloved Catholic hospitals to begin shutting their doors, the political impact would be devastating.

Thus, it came as no surprise several weeks ago when some of Obama’s religious supporters began accusing pro-lifers – particularly Catholics – of using FOCA as a scare tactic when it had not yet been introduced into the 111th Congress.

Amy Sullivan, an editor at TIME, wrote an article titled, “The Catholic Attack on a Mythical Abortion Bill,” singling out the U.S. Catholic bishops for their national postcard campaign against FOCA. Catholics United was predictably quoted in the story, as they are now in every media story giving pro-abortion Catholics political cover: “These right-wing organizations are deliberately misleading people in order to stoke the culture war.”

Sullivan, who wrote a good book about the “God gap” in the Democratic Party, went way out on a limb to defuse FOCA anxiety. “Congress,” she wrote, “isn’t about to pass the Freedom of Choice Act – because no such bill has been introduced in the current Congress.” True, but as Sullivan surely knows, there are several members of Congress who are itching to reintroduce FOCA, regardless of any misgivings Democratic strategists may have about its consequences in the 2010 election.

For the abortion lobby, the passage of FOCA is the holy grail of their activism and the just desserts for their strenuous – and expensive – efforts on behalf of Obama.

FOCA, as it turns out, is going to be reintroduced in the not-so-distant future. On March 6, a spokesman for Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that FOCA “is among the congressman’s priorities. We expect to reintroduce it sooner rather than later.”

Ilan Kayatksy, the spokesman, added that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) would introduce the same bill in the Senate “with some minor tweaks.” (Representative Nadler introduced FOCA in the 108th and 110th sessions of Congress.)

Three weeks earlier, an unnamed spokesman for Representative Nadler had told Sullivan at TIME that FOCA would not be reintroduced “anytime soon.” It sounds as if Nadler’s staff needs to get its story straight. At the same time, the conflicting statements coming from the same congressional office represent the division among Democrats about the wisdom of making FOCA a legislative priority.

But whether or not FOCA reaches the floor of the Congress this session may not make much difference: Obama might get everything he wants without the bill. He has been using Friday nights to issue statements about his plans to overturn restrictions on abortion and its funding (Friday being the best time to damp down media coverage). This past Friday, Obama announced he will sign an executive order requiring federal money be spent on embryonic stem cell research, removing all the restrictions placed by the Bush administration.

Friday-night statements from the White House may eventually approximate the outcome of FOCA without the controversial bill ever ending up on the president’s desk.

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