As one inauguration ends, another begins. Yesterday's March for Life in Washington inaugurated a rebirth of the abortion debate, thanks in large part to the election of President Barack Obama.
The media traditionally ignore or minimize the annual march, despite its large numbers, because it's viewed as a rehash of Roe v. Wade. But this year is different, because many pro-lifers view Obama as militantly pro-abortion rights.
For starters, on the campaign trail he told Planned Parenthood supporters of his desire to sign into law, as quickly as possible, the pro-abortion Freedom of Choice Act. Versions of FOCA have been introduced in Congress since 1989. But FOCA isn't the whole story.
Internet blogs that cover faith and religion report that the president is on the verge of reversing a federal policy that prohibits international nongovernmental agencies from using U.S. funds to finance abortion and birth control. Also under threat is a rule, signed by George W. Bush last month and put into effect just last week, that allows medical personnel to withhold service or treatment they deem a violation of conscience.
This rule obviously targets abortion. Obama has promised to rescind the regulation, according to Slate.com's Melinda Henneberger.
Traditionally, Protestant Christian evangelicals have been at the forefront of the pro-life movement, and overturning Roe has been their major objective. But increasingly, young Catholic bishops, like Raleigh's Rev. Michael Burbidge, are assuming leadership roles in the fight. That's a significant development, because these bishops have more in their arsenals than homilies and busloads of pro-life parishioners.
The bishops have health care -- an issue Obama has said will be central to his presidency.
Catholic hospitals are a very large component of the nation's health care delivery system. They provide approximately 15 percent of U.S. hospital beds. North Carolina is one of the few states not served by a Catholic hospital, but in 21 states and the District of Columbia, they account for at least 20 percent of admissions, according to the American Hospital Association.
But there's more to this issue than numbers. Catholic medical facilities often specialize in services and specialties more beneficial to the public good than to the bottom line. Among them are key services such as social workers, nutrition programs and inner-city emergency rooms. And, of course, there's old-fashioned charity. For tens of thousands of poor U.S. citizens, their medical safety net is strung up at a Catholic health care facility.
This is the chip some Catholic bishops have threatened to pull off the table if FOCA is signed into law. They act not out of spite, but as a matter of belief. Should FOCA prevail, or if legislation passes that would invalidate the conscience rule or similar state laws, some bishops have said they would close their hospitals rather than be forced to perform abortions. (Catholic hospitals are under federal jurisdiction because they accept Medicare and Medicaid patients and could not survive without those reimbursements.)
Some think the bishops are bluffing. They aren't, because they can't. A Catholic hospital could no more perform an abortion than it could carry out an execution. Count on the bishops' ensuring that parishioners understand that a vote for FOCA is a vote to close Catholic, community-based health care.
While the bishops fight FOCA, some Catholics are going after abortion itself. CatholicVote.com (a project of the 501(c)3 Fidelis Center for Law and Policy) launched an anti-abortion advertising campaign on Inauguration Day with a pointed -- and ironic -- tribute to our new president that aired on Black Entertainment Television. Violins played as a series of ultrasound images of a fetus were accompanied by these words:
"The child's future is a broken home ... he will be abandoned by his father ... his single mother will struggle to raise him ... despite the hardships he will endure ... this child will become ... the first African-American president."
The ad ends with a favorable portrait of Obama beside the campaign's central theme: "Life -- Imagine the Potential ."
These developments are just a few of the signs of a reinvigorated pro-life movement. They should alert the Obama administration that should it choose to make it easier to abort an unborn child, the president will have a tough -- and sophisticated -- holy war on his hands.
Contributing columnist Rick Martinez (firstname.lastname@example.org) is director of news and programming at WPTF-AM.